There will only be three points at stake when Manchester United travel to Stamford Bridge on Monday, but for the future prospects of United and Chelsea this game could mean so much more than that.
For starters a defeat for United could spell the end of their top four hopes this season, but the implications could continue into the summer and a few months which could be decisive for both teams.
There are obvious comparisons to be made between United and Chelsea at the moment, two clubs being managed by former players who were worshipped when they were on the pitch. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under more pressure than Frank Lampard but both have points to prove, although they have credit in the bank for showing a commitment to youth.
Chelsea may have the marginally more balanced squad at the moment, which is why they lead a top four race that has slowed to a crawl over the past two months, but both squads require surgery.
Intriguingly, they also require reinforcements in similar areas and are being linked with the same players. Lampard is concerned at Chelsea’s lack of goals and a reliance on Tammy Abraham, and they still haven’t replaced Eden Hazard, while United are overly reliant on Marcus Rashford and lack depth and, arguably, quality in forward areas.
Chelsea have acted decisively with a deal with Hakim Ziyech, the Ajax playmaker who was integral to their run to the Champions League semi-finals last season. The Blues got a glimpse of the Moroccan’s talents in the thrilling 4-4 draw between the two clubs in the group stage earlier this season.
United were never seriously linked with Ziyech, but that didn’t stop plenty of pundits and supporters putting his name forward as an obvious solution to a lack of creativity. The 26-year-old has been involved in 89 goals in 109 Eredivisie appearances for Ajax.
Both clubs could be competing for a centre forward however, with Lampard wanting competition for Abraham and Solskjaer likewise with Anthony Martial. Both have been linked with Lyon striker Moussa Dembele, 23, who has attracted plenty of interest with his performances in Ligue 1.
Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said this week that the club would sell players this summer if they wanted to leave, which makes Dembele an obvious target for any club needing reinforcements in that position.
The biggest tussle could come if Chelsea pursue a move for Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho. The deal for Ziyech could end their interesting in a transfer that would set them back more than £100million, especially when Roman Abramovich’s investment in the club has begun to be questioned given his absence from those shores.
That might give United a head start in any move for the 19-year-old England international, yet there’s no doubt Chelsea have the financial muscle to pull the deal off if Abramovich suddenly rediscovers his deep pockets. A tug-of-war for Sancho between United and Chelsea could define the summer and the following season for the victors.
It is in attacking areas where the battle for players might be most obviously waged this summer, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Chelsea pursued another midfielder, which could lead them to treading on United’s toes, while it’s not out of the question Solskjaer adds a left-back to his summer shopping list, which is an area Lampard is almost certain to be focusing on.
For now transfer market battles between United and Chelsea can wait, but events on the pitch on Monday could have an impact on the summer as well.