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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Who gets the nod in Mail Sport’s Chelsea vs Man United combined XI?

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Chelsea host Manchester United tonight hoping to resurrect their European hopes with a statement win. The Red Devils emerged 2-1 victors from their encounter back in December, with a certain Scott McTominay producing the goods to gobble up all three points. But there’s no place for the United stalwart this time around as we at Mail Sport assemble our combined XI for tonight’s clash. And trust us – there were some tricky decisions!  Mail Sport has assembled a combined XI ahead of Chelsea’s match with Manchester United GOALKEEPER: ANDRE ONANA (MANCHESTER UNITED)Onana’s turnaround in recent months has been one of the driving forces keeping United’s threadbare Champions League hopes alive.  After an error-strewn start following a £47million move from Inter Milan, Onana has bounded into 2024 and given his side a chance in every game – even though he’s peppered with among the most shots in the league. Dorde Petrovic has seized his chance with Chelsea after Robert Sanchez’s injury and kept his place to give them a reliable presence between the sticks. That said, he had to do better with Dara O’Shea’s headed equaliser on Saturday – that slipped through his hands. Onana’s form since the Africa Cup of Nations justifies his selection – and he recently admitted he has turned a corner mentally.  Andre Onana’s form since the African Cup of Nations has gone some way to justifying his purchaseRIGHT-BACK: MALO GUSTO (CHELSEA)With Reece James still suppressed by injuries, Gusto has given Chelsea fans someone exciting to cheer on down the right flank.His haul of eight assists in all competitions and crossing ability has given the Blues an edge, and with Cole Palmer marauding ahead of him, they form a strong pairing. Diogo Dalot was a shout for this position, but as you’ll soon discover, he was needed elsewhere… Malo Gusto has provided eight assist from right-back this season, only two fewer than Trent Alexander-Arnold CENTRE-BACK: AXEL DISASI (CHELSEA) A commanding presence, good on the ball, and reliably fit – Disasi ranks among the better signings Chelsea have made in the player-guzzling Todd Boehly era. His bond at the back with Benoit Badiashile, or should we call it a bromance, has been a defining feature of their season. If Lisando Martinez’s season hadn’t been riddled with injuries, Disasi would definitely have been under threat for this XI, but he makes it in.   Axel Disasi has adapted to Premeir League life better than some of Chelsea’s other signings CENTRE-BACK: RAPHAEL VARANE (MANCHESTER UNITED) He’s had his critics this season and even lost his place to Jonny Evans at one point, but Varane can be assured of his place if Mail Sport is in charge.The 30-year-old has regained his place, playing in all of United’s league games this year, and is without question their best defender. That does mean Disasi misses out on his Badiashile dream partnership, but he’ll just have to cope with a four-time Champions League winner by his side.  Raphael Varane is Manchester UNited’s best defender, even if his form has fallen below his usual standards LEFT-BACK: DIOGO DALOT (MANCHESTER UNITED)One of the few Man United players this season who I am happy to call consistent. Week in, week out, Dalot has been there, starting all but three of United’s league games. He was suspended for one and the others were the first two games of the campaign.He’s not as defensively solid as Aaron Wan-Bissaka nor as good going forward as Gusto, but he can play on either side of the defence and hold his own.  Diogo Dalot has been present through all of UNited’s high and lows this season with consistent showings CENTRE-MIDFIELD: KOBBIE MAINOO (MANCHESTER UNITED)The most obvious pick for this team based on form. He doesn’t come garlanded with a huge price tag, but sometimes a humble academy graduate is all you need. He has become the metronomic lynchpin of United’s midfield, a calm head beyond his years in a season of turmoil. There is room to improve, obviously, but he makes everything look easy.Gareth Southgate should take him to the Euros after a man of the match performance against Belgium. And a Nando’s sponsorship deal is in the works. What more can you want than that? Kobbie Mainoo earned an England call-up for his form with United and impressed everybodyCENTRE-MIDFIELD: ENZO FERNANDEZ (Chelsea)It still feels as if we’re only seeing the best of Fernandez in flashes, but those flashes are getting more frequent.Not many Premier League stars can link the defence and attack better. In the 3-2 win against Newcastle, he was always getting on the ball and his quick thinking and pass set up Cole Palmer on his way to scoring.Against Burnley, he had three shots but faield to make the game-changing impact that fans would like to see a bit more of when their team isn’t playing well.Him and Mainoo would make a top-quality partnership. Fernandez has assumed less creative responsibility this season but is doing well in his current role.  Enzo Fernandezis a well-rounded midfielder who can link the defence and attack well ATTACKING MIDFIELD: BRUNO FERNANDES (MANCHESTER UNITED)After a dry spell in December, Fernandes has been delivering the sort of end product that United need from their talisman in 2024.Three goals and four assists in the New Year marks a respectable tally, not outlandish, but enough to bat away his critics more credibly.He has shown better leadership in recent times, scoring a penalty against Everton and even filling in in defence against Liverpool in that breathless 4-3 FA Cup win. Perhaps he’ll never recapture that glorious 2020/21 season of 28 goals and 17 assists, but he’s on course for double figures in both metrics this season, a helpful contribution.  Bruno Fernandes will always have his detractors but his leadership has been better in 2024RIGHT WING: COLE PALMER (CHELSEA)Chelsea’s best player. He could have gone pretty much anywhere along this front line, but the right wing is his most common position.Cutting in on his left, he is deadly, as Newcastle found out in March when he dipped inside a swung a powerful shot into the bottom corner. Against Burnley, he converted a penalty and also capitalised on a close-range chance. Chelsea can rely on him to make a difference. He isn’t just a penalty merchant. A bag of 18 goals and 12 assists puts him just a one behind Phil Foden on goal/assist contributions this season.  Chelsea fans are getting used to seeing this celebration – Cole Palmer has scored 18 times STRIKER: NICOLAS JACKSON (CHELSEA)Alright, this one might provoke uproarious condemnation and splutters of anger, but to be frank, it’s perfectly justifiable. Not only does Jackson have more Premier League goals (nine) than Rasmus Hojlund (seven), but his minutes per goal record is better.Jackson gets nowhere near enough credit for his elegant link-up play, which hasn’t translated into many cold, hard assists, but has clearly made Chelsea better off.Admittedly, he’s had his struggles finishing his dinner in front of goal, but that’s not without precedent. Didier Drogba scored 16 goals in all competitions in his first Chelsea season in 2004/05 and the same in the next before getting 33 in his third. And he brought so much more that that side than just goals.  Nicolas Jackson hasn’t had the easiest first season but is finding his feet at Chelsea and links up play LEFT WING: ALEJANDRO GARNACHO (MANCHESTER UNITED)What a revelation Garnacho has been in the past few months. It took until November for this tricky, spindly winger to score his first goal of the season, but he has stepped up well since. His relationship with Rasmus Hojlund has been a beam of hope for United this season and their form has improved in tandem. After producing nothing from the bench until late November, he has popped up with seven goals and four assists. His pace on the counter-attack is electrifying and his skill in one vs one situations is there for all to see.  Alejandro Garnacho has stepped up when Erik ten Hag needs big performances and has been great since November 

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