Manchester City are set to make a splash in the transfer market and defence is the area in the spotlight.

City struggled defensively in the absence of injured star Aymeric Laporte following Vincent Kompany's exit, while there are doubts over John Stones' future in Manchester.

Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake are reportedly high on Pep Guardiola's wish list as he attempts to strengthen his squad after watching Liverpool coast to the Premier League title.

 

TOP STORY – CITY NOTIFY NAPOLI OF KOULIBALY INTENT

Manchester City have informed Napoli they are ready to make an offer for star defender Kalidou Koulibaly, according to Sky Sport Italia.

Pep Guardiola has set his sights on Koulibaly, who has also been linked to the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

City are willing to bid €65million (£58m) but Napoli are still holding out for €100m (£90m).

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying in Manchester and Sky Sports says City are in talks with Bournemouth over the signing of another defender – Nathan Ake. The Guardian claims City are poised to beat neighbours United and Chelsea to the Netherlands international.

- Sky Germany reports Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz has agreed terms with Chelsea as he moves closer to arriving at Stamford Bridge. Havertz has been linked to Madrid, United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Barcelona but he appears set to join Chelsea. Win Sports TV journalist Pipe Sierra, meanwhile, claims Chelsea and Leverkusen have agreed an €85m (£77m) fee plus €15m (£13.5m) in bonuses.

Juventus are eyeing former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino as a possible replacement for head coach Maurizio Sarri, according to La Stampa.

- The Daily Mail says Southampton are set to sign Real Valladolid defender Mohammed Salisu. The 21-year-old has reportedly attracted interest from United and Atletico Madrid.

Theo Hernandez has no plans to leave Milan amid interest from Ligue 1 champions PSG, reports Calciomercato. Hernandez is enjoying a fine season with a resurgent Rossoneri team under Stefano Pioli.

- Gianluca Di Marzio claims there is a €60m agreement between Napoli and Lille for Victor Osimhen but the Serie A outfit still has to resolve matters with the forward's new agent.

Manchester United defender Eric Bailly has been released from hospital following the head injury he suffered during Sunday's 3-1 FA Cup semi-final loss to Chelsea, Stats Perform News understands.

Bailly clashed heads with fellow centre-back Harry Maguire late in the first half at Wembley, shortly after a collision with Chelsea's Kurt Zouma.

Maguire was able to carry on with a bandaged head but Bailly was helped to the touchline after lengthy treatment and carried down the tunnel on a stretcher.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer later said the 26-year-old had gone to hospital for "routine checks and protocols", which it would now appear produced no adverse findings.

Football Association and Premier League guidance states players who are suspected to have suffered concussion should not return to competitive action for at least six days, meaning Bailly must be considered a doubt for United's concluding top-flight matches against West Ham and Leicester City this week.

The 26-year-old Ivory Coast international moved to Old Trafford from Villarreal in 2016 and has suffered two serious knee injuries and undergone ankle surgery during his time with the Red Devils.

Barcelona players reportedly want Patrick Kluivert to take charge of the LaLiga giants.

Quique Setien is under growing pressure at the helm of Barcelona after giving up the league title to rivals Real Madrid.

Amid uncertainty over Setien, it seems Kluivert would be a popular appointment.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA PLAYERS WANT KLUIVERT AS COACH

Barcelona's dressing room want Kluivert as head coach, according to Mundo Deportivo.

The club's former striker returned to Barcelona last year, becoming the academy director.

The report says Kluivert is seen by players as Barcelona's answer to Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, who starred at the Santiago Bernabeu during his playing career.

Kluivert, 44, has limited experience as a head coach, having previously been in charge of Jong FC Twente and Curacao.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City could be busy during the next close season. Tuttosport reports City are targeting Juventus forward Douglas Costa, who has also been linked to Paris Saint-Germain. The report says City could pay around £36.5million (€40m) to £45.6m (€50m) for Costa.

- While Gianluigi Donnarumma is coming out of contract at Milan next year, the goalkeeper is expected to re-sign. However, CalcioMercato says the shot-stopper is in no rush to get a deal done.

- Victor Osimhen is close to sealing a move to Napoli. L'Equipe claims the Lille forward, who scored 18 goals in 2019-20, will sign a six-year deal with Napoli. The Serie A club will pay €81m for the 21-year-old.

- After two impressive seasons with Atalanta, Duvan Zapata is catching the eye. CalcioMercato says Juventus are interested in the Colombia international forward.

- Mario Gotze has plenty of interest. After leaving Borussia Dortmund, the 28-year-old is a target for Fiorentina, according to Corriere dello Sport. Meanwhile, Sport Bild reports Gotze is also on the wish list of Monaco, where Niko Kovac has been named coach.

- On loan at Sheffield United from Manchester United, Dean Henderson has impressed. The Daily Express reports Chelsea are yet to decide whether they will make a move for the goalkeeper, amid constant speculation over their own shot-stopper, Kepa Arrizabalaga.

- As he departs Liverpool, Adam Lallana looks set to stay in the Premier League. The Sun reports Leicester City, Everton, Burnley and Brighton and Hove Albion are all targeting the midfielder.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted David de Gea made an inexplicable error as Manchester United slumped to a 3-1 defeat against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

The Spanish goalkeeper has been frequently lauded as one of the world's best by his United manager, but significant errors have crept into his game and Sunday's cup clash was one he will want to forget.

As well as being beaten by a close-range Olivier Giroud shot that he might have kept out on another day, De Gea let a skidding shot from Mason Mount slip under his body to allow Chelsea a 2-0 lead.

Solskjaer acknowledged De Gea should have done better, telling the BBC: "He knows he should save that one 100 times out of 100 but that's football for you. I made the decision to play him and mentally he was ready for it."

In a subsequent media conference, Solskjaer was asked whether he might have a choice to make about his goalkeeper position in future, given the number of times De Gea has been at fault.

He made it clear De Gea, like every United player, must justify his place in the team.

"Obviously, everyone has to perform and everyone has a chance every time we perform to stake a claim in the team," Solskjaer said.

"David knows he should have saved the second goal but that's done now, we've got to move on.

"It's hard for a keeper to make amends, apart from David making two or three fantastic saves after."

In his television interview, Solskjaer said United, having seen one chance of silverware disappear, needed to take the right attitude into their final two Premier League games against West Ham and Leicester City and the subsequent battle for a European trophy.

"There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves," Solskjaer told BBC Sport. "We have two games this week and then the Europa League. We will get our heads ready and our legs ready and go again."

Frank Lampard hailed the character and leadership qualities of his Chelsea squad after overcoming Manchester United 3-1 to advance through to the FA Cup final.

Olivier Giroud and Mason Mount scored either side of half-time in Sunday's clash at Wembley – helped by a couple of David de Gea errors – and Harry Maguire put into his own net.

The victory comes less than a week on from Lampard criticising his side for not being vocal enough on the pitch in their 3-0 Premier League loss at Sheffield United.

But the Chelsea boss felt his players more than stepped up against Man Utd as they took control of the match from the start to set up a final with city rivals Arsenal on August 1.

"I can't ask for any more from my players than that - the work ethic and the level of performance," he told BBC Sport. 

"We were on top and when they changed their system we were even better. I am very proud of that performance.

"Where we are at it is going to happen that we have some bad displays like against Sheffield United. 

"We have done a lot of work in the last few days and the players deserve a huge amount of credit. They should take confidence from that display. 

"We have leaders. You can't compare across eras but we have leaders in the team. It was a performance full of character and personality."

Chelsea are also battling with United for a top-four finish in the Premier League, something they can guarantee by winning their remaining games against Liverpool and Wolves.

"We have some finals ahead - two in the league and then Arsenal," Lampard added. "We want to win things. 

"Three games won't define the progress we have made but we are at the business end."

Giroud was the first to profit from De Gea's questionable goalkeeping by flicking in the opener during first-half stoppage time, which was prolonged due to Eric Bailly suffering a head injury.

The World Cup-winning striker has lifted the FA Cup three times with Arsenal and once already with Chelsea and is now aiming to go all the way again by seeing off his former club.

"I said to my boys in the dressing room, 'I would love to win another one'. It would be my fifth one," he said.

"Another final now - it's going to be another big game against Arsenal. It's going to be so special for me, personally.

"We are very happy with the team’s performance today. We now need to focus on the Premier League."

Giroud was strongly linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge in January but recently signed a 12-month extension and is no longer seeking an exit.

"It's all behind me and now I'm looking ahead," he said. "I'm very happy at Chelsea. I just want to win more trophies and we now have the opportunity to do that in the FA Cup."

David de Gea had a day to forget as Olivier Giroud and Mason Mount helped Chelsea outlcass Manchester United 3-1 in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Giroud ensured Chelsea deservedly led with the help of slack goalkeeping from De Gea at the end of a half in which United lost Eric Bailly to a serious-looking heading injury.

De Gea was at fault again almost immediately after the restart when Mount doubled Chelsea's lead with a shot a keeper of any level would hope to save.

The Spaniard was not entirely convincing when Harry Maguire put into his own net to compound a miserable day either, but – despite a late penalty from Bruno Fernandes – Frank Lampard's side were good value for the win and can now look forward to a return to Wembley to face Arsenal in a rematch of the 2016-17 final.

Chelsea's pressure had United on the back foot early on but Reece James' stinging drive was the only save De Gea had to make, with Marcos Alonso wastefully putting a free header over.

United's performance was at odds with their recent form and they saw Bailly taken away on a stretcher in a neck brace after a nasty clash of heads with Maguire.

After a lengthy delay, Giroud's deft touch from Cesar Azpilicueta's right-wing cross squirmed past De Gea, who might feel he should have done better, in the 11th minute of first-half stoppage time.

Just a minute after the restart De Gea's outing got even worse when he allowed Mount's seemingly unthreatening 20-yard effort under his body, albeit Brandon Williams' wayward pass did his side no favours.

Marcus Rashford flashed a tantalising ball across the face of goal and Maguire headed wide when Willy Caballero flapped at a corner as United tried to muster a response.

But it was game over when Maguire got the final touch on Alonso's drilled cross and De Gea was again beaten, with Fernandes' clinical spot-kick after Callum Hudson-Odoi's clumsy challenge on Anthony Martial providing scant consolation.

 

What does it mean? Ole's gambles backfire as Lampard, Arteta eye first prize

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had masterminded three wins over Chelsea this season, but his decision to match their 3-5-2 system – a tactic that yielded success at Stamford Bridge in February – did not pay dividends, nor did the selection of De Gea over regular cup keeper Sergio Romero.

For Lampard, he can now end his first campaign as boss with silverware, although Mikel Arteta will be equally desperate to land a maiden trophy as Gunners head coach.

Giroud leads the way

Many will talk about De Gea's shoddy work for the opener but Giroud deserves credit for getting in front of Victor Lindelof and providing a classy flick.

The Frenchman has six goals in his past seven starts and was a constant menace. Not a bad return for a man who seemed destined for an exit just six months ago.

De Gea back under the spotlight

The form of United number one De Gea has been the topic of discussion for some time, most recently for an error in a 1-1 draw against Spurs when the Premier League resumed last month.

De Gea responded with four clean sheets in the following six top-flight matches, but a keeper of his quality really should have saved Giroud's effort and the second goal was inexcusable.

What's next?

United's focus turns back to the race for the top four in the Premier League as they host West Ham on Wednesday. Chelsea will eventually prepare for Arsenal and a Wembley return but can confirm their own place in the Champions League spots by beating Liverpool on the final day.

Eric Bailly was taken away from Manchester United's FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea in a neck brace after sustaining a head injury in a collision with team-mate Harry Maguire.

The centre-back had shortly before received treatment after clashing heads with Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma at Wembley.

Bailly was then caught by Maguire, who received a cut himself in the clash, and was taken to the side of the pitch for treatment.

The Ivory Coast international received medical attention before being wheeled away on a stretcher after a lengthy delay in proceedings prior to half-time.

In the 11th-minute of first-half stoppage time, Olivier Giroud put Chelsea 1-0 up.

Arsenal may get an opportunity to sign Philippe Coutinho, while Mason Greenwood is set to be rewarded by Manchester United.

Coutinho is expected to leave Barcelona permanently this close season after a loan spell at Bayern Munich.

A stunning swap deal could see the playmaker end up at Emirates Stadium.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA OFFER ARSENAL COUTINHO FOR GUENDOUZI

Barcelona are in talks to send Coutinho to Arsenal in exchange for Matteo Guendouzi, according to Foot Mercato.

Coutinho has struggled to have an impact at Barca, while Guendouzi seems set for an Arsenal exit.

Former Liverpool star Coutinho has been heavily linked with a return to the Premier League.

ROUND-UP

- Greenwood is set to be rewarded for his breakthrough season at Old Trafford. The Mirror reports the forward, who has scored 16 goals this campaign, is set to be offered a new deal to double his wages at Manchester United.

- Ajax defender Nicolas Tagliafico has been linked with a move away. Goal reports Atletico Madrid have joined the race for the Argentina international, who is also said to be a target for Chelsea.

- Manchester City could be set to sign a Brazilian teenager. According to the Daily Mail, City are in talks with Gremio over a £4.5million (€5m) deal for midfielder Diego Rosa.

- Compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, Joelson Fernandes is linked with several European heavyweights. A Bola reports Arsenal are leading the race for the Sporting CP forward, with Barcelona and Juventus also said to be interested.

- West Ham are preparing to make changes. The Sun reports they are open to offers for Manuel Lanzini and Fabian Balbuena ahead of next season.

- Amid apparent interest from the Bundesliga, Timothy Fosu-Mensah is set to be given a chance to earn a new contract at Manchester United, according to The Sun.

Frank Lampard does not believe Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final clash with Manchester United will have any impact on the battle for a top-four finish in the Premier League.

Chelsea sit third in the table but will put their quest to qualify for next season's Champions League to one side on Sunday, as they take on in-form United at Wembley.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side go into the cup tie on a 19-match unbeaten run in all competitions, with the impressive streak continuing on Thursday with a 2-0 triumph away at Crystal Palace.

The result moved the Red Devils to 62 points, the same number as fourth-placed Leicester City and just one behind Chelsea, with the trio all having two fixtures remaining.

Yet Lampard downplayed the significance of what happens this weekend in relation to the rest of the season, with the battle to join Liverpool and Manchester City in Europe's leading club competition set to go to the final day.

"I genuinely think it has no bearing," the Chelsea boss told the media. "This is a competition in itself and we all know what is at stake, which is a place in the final.

"The next two games will come around very quickly after that, and each of us will deal with them in our own way.

"Obviously the physical demands of the game will [have] a small effect on the Wednesday game we play next week [against Liverpool], but we will have to deal with that and get on with it. Other than that, I'm not sure it has much bearing."

Bruno Fernandes has been a key factor in United's resurgence in the second half of the campaign following his arrival from Sporting CP in the January transfer window.

The Portuguese playmaker has provided a reliable supply line to forwards Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, as well as emerging talent Mason Greenwood.

Considering the attacking players Solskjaer has at his disposal, Lampard believes it will take a "complete performance" from Chelsea to book a place in the FA Cup final, which is scheduled for August 1.

"These are two big teams going against each other," the former England international said.

"We all know that their front three are playing very, very well. The amount of goals they've put together as a front three has been amazing, so we have to understand that and work against it.

"But they do have a strong team throughout. Their midfield is functioning really well now – the introduction of Fernandes gave them a huge boost in January, I think everyone has seen that.

"It will need a complete performance to challenge Manchester United."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hit back at claims by Frank Lampard and Jose Mourinho that Manchester United have benefited from favourable VAR calls.

Ahead of the FA Cup semi-final meeting on Sunday, Chelsea head coach Lampard said that United have "got a few in their favour" when it comes to decisions during recent Premier League games, with Tottenham boss Mourinho also suggesting his old club had been "lucky".

United have been awarded 13 penalties in 2019-20, one short of a record for a Premier League season, the most recent of which was for a contentious foul on Bruno Fernandes in a 3-0 win at Aston Villa.

Thursday's 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace saw Victor Lindelof get away with a challenge on Wilfried Zaha in the penalty area, while Jordan Ayew had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside.

Solskjaer, though, says United have themselves been victims of questionable decisions, such as a late challenge by Oriol Romeu on Mason Greenwood that went unpunished in the 2-2 draw with Southampton.

The United manager pointed to "facts" about recent games, apparently in a reference to former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's famous rant about United and Alex Ferguson back in 2009, as he moved to dismiss attempts to create a "narrative" about VAR favouring his team.

"How long have we got?" he said on Saturday. "I can sit here for hours now and try to talk about this. It looks like there's a narrative. It looks like people want to influence whoever's making the decisions.

"I hear people talking about luck, that we've been lucky more than unlucky. If you look at the factual decisions – I don't want to sound like a certain manager talking about facts – but if you're offside, you're offside. That's clear.

"Talking about lucky, the penalty we got against Tottenham in the last minute that was taken away from us, that might be two points for us.

"Talking about the red card that Romeu should have had against us when he got Mason Greenwood almost crippled, that should've been a red card. Maybe that would've helped us.

"Talking about Mark Noble when he should have been sent off against us when we lost at West Ham [in September].

"Talking about the actual decision that is made that is against Man United but is overturned and corrected. So, it's actually me that should be complaining that we get decisions against us on the pitch by the on-field referee.

"There's a narrative there but we have to focus on our games. We let other people talk about that. I don't want to go too much into it because I might be in trouble. I hope I'm not now!

"I'm pretty relaxed on these and refs are going to be making objective decisions and are not going to be influenced by any emotion in any way."

Manchester United's Odion Ighalo will use the pain of missing out on the 2016 FA Cup final as fuel for Sunday's semi-final clash with Chelsea.

The striker suffered last-four heartbreak four years ago when playing for Watford, who were beaten 2-1 by Crystal Palace to miss out on a showpiece showdown with his current club United.

Ighalo, on loan at Old Trafford from Shanghai Shenhua, described it as a "bitter" experience and he is desperate to avoid a repeat at Wembley this weekend.

"It was a difficult one to take against Crystal Palace, we lost 2-1 at Wembley," the 31-year-old told MUTV. "If we'd have won, we'd have played United in the final.

"Unfortunately, we lost. It was a bitter one to take but this is an opportunity again in an FA Cup semi-final to make it right and go forward to the final.

"If I'm called to play, I'm going to give all I can to help the team win the game.

"Everybody wants to play against teams like Chelsea, big teams, and play well against them and, most of all, playing at Wembley and, you know if you win, you're in the final.

"So, of course, it's going to give you more to want to fight hard and make sure you give everything to win the game.

"To get to the final would be great for me in my life and my career. I missed out in 2016 and I have the opportunity to now get to the final with the club I've supported all my life.

"It would make my dreams perfect. It will be tough but we have what it takes."

United have defeated Frank Lampard's side on three occasions this term but Ighalo, who scored in the quarter-final win over Norwich City, is taking nothing for granted.

"We have beaten them three times this season I think, one in the Carabao Cup and two in the league, and we're playing them now in the semi-final," he said.

"All those games don't count though. This is a different game which is going to be even tougher without the fans in the stadium.

"We have to fight from the first minute until the end. It's always tough against them but I think, with the quality and momentum we have now, we are ready to go and to win against any team."

Manchester United have had no problem scoring goals amid their 19-match unbeaten streak across all competitions.

However, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is still desperate to sign Borussia Dortmund and England star Jadon Sancho.

And Sancho is reportedly ready to make the move to Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED STEP UP SANCHO CHASE

Manchester United are close to signing Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho , according to The Sun.

Sancho has been tipped to leave Dortmund for United amid links to Liverpool , Chelsea , Bayern Munich and Real Madrid .

Despite United's ongoing battle for Champions League qualification, Sancho wants to move to Old Trafford at the end of the season.

 

ROUND-UP

Juventus are not only in discussions with Napoli forward Arkadiusz Milik as the Serie A holders look to replace Gonzalo Higuain. Calciomercato says Juve have started speaking to the entourage of Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette , who has also been linked to Atletico Madrid .

- Marca reports Manchester City are determined to sign Valencia star Ferran Torres but they are unwilling to pay over the odds. Torres has a release clause of €100million (£90m), which has deterred Real Madrid and Barcelona , though City are only prepared to spend a fixed amount of €35m (£31m).

- According to Kicker, either David Alaba decides to extend his Bayern Munich contract or he will be sold before becoming a free agent in 2021. Alaba has been linked to the likes of City and Paris Saint-Germain .

- Radio Taronja claims Atletico and Sevilla both want to sign Valencia captain Dani Parejo . The 31-year-old midfielder has reportedly been told he can leave Valencia.

- There is a total agreement for Ralf Rangnick to take over from Stefano Pioli as Milan head coach in 2020-21, according to journalist Nicolo Schira. The German will arrive on a three-year deal.

Napoli's pursuit of Lille star Victor Osimhen is proving problematic. Tipped to join Napoli, L'Equipe claims Lille are unwilling to accept Adam Ounas as part of the deal for the Nigeria forward. Now, Il Mattino says United are interested, while SportItalia and Tuttomercatoweb are among the outlets to point to Premier League champions Liverpool .

Lazio have approached Madrid to sign forward Borja Mayoral , says Sky Sport Italia. The 23-year-old has spent the past two years on loan at Levante.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is ready to leave Lazio for a new challenge, claims Tuttosport. PSG have been tipped to sign the Serbia international, while the likes of Chelsea , United , Madrid , Juve and Inter have been previously linked.

Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are in different stages of transition, but an FA Cup triumph would make any of their seasons feel a bit sweeter.

In the Premier League, things feel a bit mixed. While top-four finishes are on the cards for United and Chelsea, they are five points down compared to last season after the same number of games played. Arsenal, meanwhile, are a damning 16 points worse off.

League tables will naturally be far from the thoughts of Frank Lampard, Mikel Arteta and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Wembley this weekend, but the form of their teams in the top flight does give a good insight into how, if at all, they are overseeing some improvement.

Here's how they compare in terms of this season and last season in league football - bearing in mind, of course, that the campaign is not yet finished...

 

GOALSCORING

Chelsea have scored 64 goals in 2019-20 after 36 league games, one more than last season. United are on 63 (down two), and Arsenal on 53 (down 10).

In Expected Goals, Chelsea were at 59.3 last term but are now at 67.3. Arsenal's xG last season was 60.6 and has dropped to 44.8, while United have also slipped, decreasing to an xG of 60.8 this season compared to 61.9 last.

Still, those numbers suggest each side has scored about as many goals as could realistically be hoped in 2019-20. So that's good news.

FINDING THE TARGET

United are top in shooting accuracy, with a rating of 52.1 per cent this term. Chelsea are at 50.1 per cent, with Arsenal at 49.7 per cent.

That might look balanced, but only Chelsea are showing an improvement: their accuracy is up by nearly two per cent on last term, while Arsenal's has dropped (by a tiny 0.5 per cent) and United's has slipped by a more concerning 4.7 per cent.

What about conversion rates? Chelsea are at 14.9 for this season, a drop of 0.5 per cent; United are down by 0.7 per cent at 15.7. With two games left, those numbers are pretty much the same as last season. Arsenal, more worryingly, have dropped by 3.5 per cent.

Of course, chance conversion depends on the quality of the opening - all strikers would prefer a certified 'big chance'. Chelsea have created the most of those (70), with United on 54 and Arsenal on 45. In 2018-19, Chelsea created 80, United 65, and Arsenal 72.

As for converting those big chances, United's rate is up by around 0.8 per cent. Chelsea's is three per cent lower this term, perhaps highlighting some of Lampard's concerns about not taking their opportunities. As for Arsenal, their big chance conversion rate of 56.3 is far higher even than those of Liverpool or Manchester City. Just where would they be without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

DEFENCE

Chelsea have the worst defence this term, conceding 49 goals in 36 games. United have let in 35, while Arsenal have shipped 45, also in 36 matches.

United's Expected Goals Against figure is fairly consistent with the data at 35.7 for this season, with Arsenal on 52. Chelsea, however, are down at 37.1 - in other words, they are conceding more than they should. That suggests they have faced some ruthless centre-forwards or that goalkeepers Kepa Arrizabalaga and Willy Caballero have not played their part.

Chelsea also had a slightly lower xGA of 36.8 for last season, suggesting they are conceding a greater number of good chances now than before. United and Arsenal have each improved in that regard - the Red Devils, for instance, had an xGA of 51.2 last term, up almost 16 compared to this season.

Clean sheets are also telling. United have 12 this season, already five more than they managed throughout last season. Arsenal are up by two, with 10. Chelsea have managed eight this term - half the number they reached in 2018-19.

 

SO, CHELSEA ARE IN TROUBLE AT THE BACK?

Yes and no. You could argue Chelsea do not do enough defensively, given the number of goals going in and the xGA tally. But the truth is they, like United, are tracking for improvement in terms of those defensive metrics that rely on players improving their own numbers. It's Arsenal who should be more worried.

Chelsea have made 599 tackles this season, close to last term's 618. United are on 550, down from 581 - not a hugely significant slide. Arsenal are on 567, a more dramatic drop from 610 in 2018-19.

As for interceptions, Chelsea have made 444 in 2019-20, up from 350 last season - a huge increase in terms of winning back possession without committing to challenges. United have surpassed last season's 355 already, reaching 362. Arsenal, though, have managed 340, a drop of 72 from last season.

Unsurprisingly, this means the Gunners are exposed to opposition firepower too often. They have faced 526 shots this season, already 27 more than last term. Chelsea are at a commendable 307, down from 350, while United have dropped from 496 all the way to 363. That's a solidifying defence in action.

All three teams can at least point to fewer errors leading to shots (and goals). Chelsea have committed 14 mistakes leading to a shot, down two from last season; Arsenal are on 18, down from 28; and United are on 13, down from 26. However, seven of those 13 shots have ended up going in - not a good look for David de Gea.

WHAT ABOUT A STYLE CHANGE?

Possession figures are much the same. Chelsea average 60.86, down roughly three per cent from last term; Arsenal are on 53.37, down 4.9. United's figure is up to 55.93, but that's an increase of less than 1.5 per cent.

More interesting is where they regain the ball when they don't have it. Chelsea have won it back 163 times in the final third, more than Arsenal (151) and United (134) - but they are down compared to last season in that regard, whereas United are trending upwards (Arsenal are about the same as they were). Solskjaer seems keener than most to get his players pressing higher than before.

 

HOW DO THEY USE THE BALL WHEN THEY HAVE IT?

United have had more fast breaks (32) this season than Chelsea (21) and Arsenal (19). They and Chelsea have each scored six goals from those, showing the value of committing to more swift breaks than before (they're up by nine and six respectively compared to 2018-19).

Lampard appears less inclined towards letting players run with the ball. Chelsea have attempted 744 dribbles this term, short of last season's 788 with just two games left, but United (786 compared to 605) and Arsenal (727 compared to 583) are already on far higher numbers. You can see why Solskjaer thinks Jadon Sancho would be a perfect fit.

For Chelsea, the priority seems to be getting the ball into dangerous areas more quickly. They have managed 217 successful crosses/corners this season, way up on 135 for the whole of last term under Maurizio Sarri. Arsenal are up slightly (138 compared to 128) and United are down slightly (124 compared to 133).

AND DOES THAT CREATE MORE OPENINGS?

Not for Chelsea. They created 493 goalscoring chances last season (including assists), and are trending down on that in 2019-20 at 447. Arsenal are down, too, with 283 chances created falling well short of last term's 363. United have passed last season's 382, reaching 390 with two games to go.

And yet, we've seen with xG that Chelsea have theoretically created the best good openings. That's reflected in the number of shots taken from inside the box this season, too: Chelsea have managed 396, with United way back on 289 and Arsenal on 265. Those two are trending down compared to last season.

Since Chelsea seem to be creating more good chances from close range, perhaps having Timo Werner in the box really will make a big difference. For now, he'll just have to watch the action at Wembley like the rest of us.

Frank Lampard has fanned the flames ahead of Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United by suggesting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have benefitted from VAR of late.

Lampard's Blues face United at Wembley on Sunday in their fourth meeting of the season, with Chelsea having lost each of the previous three games in the Premier League or EFL Cup.

A Marcus Rashford penalty sent United on their way to a 4-0 victory back in August, one of 13 spot-kicks Solskjaer's men have had in the Premier League this term.

The most recent one - won by Bruno Fernandes at Aston Villa - was particularly contentious, while United were perhaps fortunate that Victor Lindelof's apparent foul on Wilfried Zaha was not reviewed by VAR in Thursday's 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

Lampard noted that the introduction of VAR this season was supposed to remove any allegations of big-club bias, but he could not help but notice how the system has helped United recently.

"I suppose when you look back over days people would say [decisions] favour the big team, whether it's pressure, whether it's because of fan influence, I don't know [but] those days are gone," Lampard told reporters.

"VAR has come in to try and change, and not just favouring teams, but just to get the right decision."

"There is always a human element to VAR, still, of course, clearly they have to make a decision.

"The confusing thing about some of the recent ones, and the one last night, is that it's a very, very clear and obvious decision that was wrong that didn't get reviewed and changed and a few of those have happened. That is strange.

"I would like to think that sometimes you maybe with VAR have to be level-headed. Some may go slightly against you or not. But it just seems a period where in terms of Manchester United, they've got a few in their favour. "

Lampard also insisted he is not motivated by revenge after the three defeats earlier in the campaign.

"I think it's more than that," he added.

"Knowing the circumstances of the games, and fair play we've lost three, that's just a fact. I'm not into revenge and all these things.

"I just want to win the game that's in front of us on Sunday against a very good team."

N'Golo Kante has been ruled out of Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Wembley on Sunday.

Kante suffered a hamstring injury in the 3-0 Premier League win over Watford a fortnight ago and Frank Lampard revealed the midfielder is not ready to return at Wembley.

Blues boss Lampard said a few other players will be monitored ahead of the clash with in-form United

He said on Friday: "N'Golo Kante won't be fit for the match, he's still not right, so he's out.

"Other than that, we have a few people with little niggles, which I'll monitor over the next 24 hours or so and then we'll be ready to go."

Lampard is well aware of the threat posed by a United side who are unbeaten in 19 games and one of the London club's rivals for a top-four finish in the Premier League.

"We know they are playing well; they've got a very potent front three, the most potent front three probably in the country in terms of numbers," said Lampard.

"Obviously [Bruno] Fernandes has made a huge difference, so you see the strength they have brought to their team with individual quality. We have to be confident in ourselves, deal with their threats and worry about ourselves."

Lampard has challenged his players to grasp their opportunity to win a trophy in his first season in charge at Stamford Bridge.

"Considering where we are, we're in the semi-final, we know what's in front of us. The league is obviously huge but at this point you fight on two fronts and we have to give everything to try and do that," said the former England midfielder.

"A club like Chelsea will always want to win these kinds of trophies, it's what we've done very well in the modern era.

"Of course, it feels like a slightly different position this year because of the circumstances of the season, but we have an opportunity and it's up to the players and ourselves to make the best of it on Sunday.

"We're playing a good team, they are in good form and whoever would await us in the final will be a good team, so the work is to be done."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.