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Saving the best till last, but will Chelsea and Manchester United live up to their top billing and avoid another bore draw?

The high-profile Premier League match this weekend is played on Sunday night at Stamford Bridge as Jose Mourinho returns to his old stomping ground with a low-scoring stalemate seemingly on the cards

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 1:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 10:38pm

The biggest match in the English Premier League is saved until last again this weekend with Sunday night’s clash between Chelsea and Manchester United, even though it involves two clubs currently outside the top four.

Let us hope it is better than Monday’s stalemate between Liverpool and United, although the presence of Jose Mourinho in the away dugout is hardly encouraging for fans of exciting, entertaining football.

Mourinho, having ensured United cancelled out Liverpool, put an interesting spin on the goalless draw with his suggestion that the hosts had played conservatively with a defensive mindset, yet he did not deny his own safety-first approach.

“This is a point that stopped them winning three,” he said. “Other candidates for the title have easier fixtures at the moment and it is important to keep close to them.”

That suggests he will adopt similar smothering tactics against Chelsea, and his career history in the Premier League backs up that conclusion.

Two seasons ago, when he won the title with Chelsea, he was content to draw five games out of 10 against their closest five rivals in ensuring that they lost only once in that category, with three of those draws coming in the five away games.

Stronger Liverpool can take down Manchester United

The previous season, when Chelsea ultimately were not quite ready to win the league in his first season back in English football, he did not lose a single game against the other teams in the big six. Three of the five away games were draws and all five had under 2.5 goals, with Chelsea conceding in just one of them.

That tells you all you need to know about Mourinho’s approach to these games and, as the current United team may come up short in the title race as Chelsea did in that first season, he would be happy with similar figures again.

Of course, he will take a win if he can get one, and there is an argument for saying that he may have seen Liverpool as more of a threat than Chelsea, who have problems of their own.

Will Chelsea prove a thorn in Arsene Wenger’s side once again?

Antonio Conte has yet to achieve the defensive solidity that was the hallmark of Mourinho’s title-winning Chelsea sides and that has made them vulnerable against the better teams.

They lost 2-1 at home to Liverpool and then 3-0 away to Arsenal, and the best team they have beaten so far is 10th placed Watford.

Conte has taken remedial action since the Arsenal defeat and the last two matches were won without conceding, although only against Hull City and Leicester City, who are performing especially poorly just before Champions League games.

The only other clean sheet was against Burnley, which suggests United would give themselves a good chance by attacking.

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Mourinho, though, may see things differently with Conte also adopting a more defensive approach and both managers keen to avoid losing ground against major rivals.

This looks set to be a cagey, low-scoring match, with under 2.5 goals and the draw looking decent bets.

The other big six teams are short odds and a couple of them, Manchester City and Tottenham, look far from banker bets.

City’s early smooth progress under Pep Guardiola has stalled since they started to meet strong opponents and they are winless in four games, going back a whole month.

Having been thrashed 4-0 at Barcelona, Guardiola’s former club, City come back to a far from easy game against in-form Southampton, who are unbeaten in four league games.

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Southampton were the opposite to City under their new manager, Claude Puel, as they took a while to get going but they are now up to eighth.

They were sixth last season and look likely to be comfortably inside the top half of the table again, which makes them just the sort of team City have had problems against both this season and last.

The difficulty with backing Southampton is that they are coming off a Europa League game on Thursday night, which is a notoriously difficult task.

Their previous results in that situation were not bad as they kept a clean sheet each time - a 1-0 home win over Swansea City and a goalless draw at Leicester - but City are a different class of opponent.

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Tottenham Hotspur are always a team to consider on the road and they have a genuine win chance at Bournemouth, but they could only draw their last away game at West Bromwich Albion and this could be tougher.

The best bet lies in probably the least enticing game, with Stoke City having an excellent chance on the handicap away to Hull, while the best long shot is Crystal Palace, a dangerous away side, at Leicester.


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