Two critically important matches to the Champions League picture take the field on Sunday as Chelsea hosts Everton at Stamford Bridge and Manchester United welcomes cross-town rivals Manchester City to Old Trafford.
Both Chelsea and Manchester United are hunting for European places, and the race is still wide open as ever after Saturday’s results. Chelsea currently holds the final Champions League place on 45 points, but both Wolves and Sheffield United are nipping at their heels on 43 points while Manchester United is right in the mix with 42 points.
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This week proves a critical opportunity for Manchester United especially given Chelsea’s heavy list of scratches. The Red Devils have the opportunity to catch and pass the Blues should the
Chelsea v. Everton — 10:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Chelsea currently hold the coveted fourth spot in the Premier League table, but the Blues are limping to the finish line this season with a walking wounded squad that could ultimately cost them a place at the Champions League table. Tammy Abraham, N’Golo Kante, and Callum Hudson-Odoi all remain confirmed out for the Blues. Add to the list Christian Pulisic who remains unlikely to play in the match with his lingering thigh injury plus new injuries for Mateo Kovacic and Willian, with the former ruled out and the latter requiring a late fitness test to prove his availability. Sprinkle in a yellow card suspension for Jorginho and the Blues look seriously undermanned.
All that gives Everton a valuable opportunity to move back into the top half of the table, currently logjammed in 12th among the rabble. They could move as high as 10th with a win at Stamford Bridge, potentially pulling level with ninth-placed Arsenal on points. Carlo Ancelotti‘s side has looked far better and more organized since the Italian arrived, but the results remain inconsistent. The Toffees have won just two of their last six league matches, but have lost just twice in their last 13. The next step for Ancelotti is converting draws to wins, an important hurdle to clear before the end of the seasons.
Ancelotti has also admitted his return to Stamford Bridge, where he used to manage, will be an “emotional” one. Everton fans will hope he can bottle that emotion and save it for after the final whistle.
Manchester United v. Manchester City — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com
Champions League race aside, this rivalry has plenty of sting on its own. Manchester United is looking to complete a league double over its bitter rivals for the first time since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Man City seems firmly entrenched in second and does not appear to have much else to play for in league play, but their failings against United are a microcosm of what has gone wrong at times this season for Pep Guardiola‘s side. City out-passed United 588-199 in early December but created little in terms of good chances on net, able to put just five of its 23 shots on target. John Stones and Rodrigo were exposed on the counter, with Stones then left out of the squad for the entire rest of December.
Still, City come into this game in great form, having won their last five matches in a row across all competitions and conceding just two goals in that span. They have also won three straight at Old Trafford among all competitions and could record a fourth straight road victory at Manchester United for just the second time in club history. With Aymeric Laporte the only serious injury concern for the visitors, Manchester United will have to work hard for its place among the Premier League European places.