The scene is set for a Manchester United player to become a hero when they face Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday night.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have already won three matches against the London side across two competitions this season, but United know that past success will count for little come kick-off at Wembley Stadium.
United have shown different strengths across the three matches with Chelsea this season, and although those wins mean nothing now, the lessons learnt could prove invaluable in reaching the FA Cup final.
Looking back it seems bizarre to even recall United were largely outplayed by Frank Lampard’s side on the opening day of the season, in a match which they proved lethal on the counter-attack and struck four unanswered goals.
The Carabao Cup meeting in October was much more even, this time the magic of Marcus Rashford proved to be the difference maker, while February’s league meeting was inspired by Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial.
The three previous meetings this season have brought United wins, but perhaps most interesting is that they have all been a result of United’s two deadliest weapons. Their pace on the counter-attack and their proficiency from set-pieces.
United have not had more than 43 per cent of possession in any of their clashes against Chelsea this season. The highest tally came during that odd opening day triumph, while the Carabao Cup clash saw just 34 percent and the most recent meeting end with 40 percent of the ball.
It has been no secret that United’s biggest threat under Solskjaer has come when playing on the counter-attack, but against no other side is their deadly pace on the counter-attack more staggeringly apparent than versus Chelsea.
Fernandes’ gradual adaptation to English football has brought with it greater command in matches, and United are now capable of breaking down teams who like to sit back and defend. However, against the very best opposition it is still clear to see where United’s most dangerous threat lies.
The weekend meeting at Wembley will be a merge of both old and new for Solskjaer as he looks to find the perfect balance between a fast, but flimsy counter-attack and a structured, but static possession-based approach.
In all three matches this season United have utilised Daniel James up front, with the Wales international following up his debut strike at Old Trafford with starting roles at Stamford Bridge. The venue might be neutral this weekend, but it should be approached like an away day again.
It means United should seriously consider bringing an extra defender in with Eric Bailly perhaps the best suited for the role, while Mason Greenwood would perhaps be better suited to featuring from the bench.
Having won all previous encounters this season United should rightfully go into their Wembley showdown full of confidence, but to ensure they maintain their flawless record it is crucial they stick to the tactical blueprint which has already worked three times this season.