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exclusive If Chelsea can put the shackles on Bruno Fernandes then United will be in trouble

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Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes celebrates with his team-mates

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes celebrates with his team-mates

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes celebrates with his team-mates

I HATE matches between Chelsea and Manchester United above any other pairing in the Premier League.

They pit the club I played for, so proudly and for so long, against the team of my boyhood dreams. Ah, those dim memories now of being enthralled by greats such as Charlie Cooke and the late Peter Osgood.

This afternoon, they meet again in London, with so much at stake.

If either of these clubs fail to get into the Champions League next season, it would be a massive blow to their prestige – but, above all, to their finances.

And before you say second-placed United should manage to make fourth, no matter what, they play Chelsea away today and Manchester City away next Sunday.

If United lose those two matches, the Premier League table may not look so rosy.

Not so long ago, the two clubs found themselves with former legends of players as manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and ex-Blues ace Frank Lampard.

Some of each club’s fans, many of those who pack the stadiums when we could go to games, were behind the two young bosses.

Yet it seems the overseas fans of both clubs, of whom there are many, wanted the pair out.

They are the people who may love the club in their hearts, but whose only real contact with Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford is a visit once every three seasons and spending a few bob, either in person or online, in the club shop.

The latter type were unforgiving of a young manager learning on the job. They just want their teams to have success.

And, soon enough, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich agreed with them.

It means that Ole must pit his wits today against Thomas Tuchel, one of the new breed of German managers coming into the game and creating an impact.

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Chelsea's Thiago Silva with manager Thomas Tuchel

Chelsea's Thiago Silva with manager Thomas Tuchel

Chelsea's Thiago Silva with manager Thomas Tuchel

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Tuchel impressed me the way he set his Chelsea team up to be better than Atletico Madrid last Tuesday night in the Champions League.

Diego Simeone’s Atletico are one tough team to beat, but Chelsea always looked the better side.

Just to drift off topic for a minute, Chelsea fans, please do not believe that a quarter-final place is now done and dusted because of events in Bucharest last Tuesday.

Atletico are well capable of scoring in the second leg and both Jorginho and Mason Mount will be suspended for that game.

So, qualifying for the last eight is by no means a done deal.

In his few weeks at Chelsea, Tuchel’s impact has been more mental than anything else.

Yes, he has brought wing-back Marcos Alonso out of Lampard’s doghouse, but what else has he really changed?

The way he handled Callum Hudson-Odoi last week, bringing him on and then taking him off 20 minutes later, before picking him to start against Atletico, impressed me.

It sent a message to the heart of the Chelsea squad – ‘Being a good footballer just doesn’t cut it now, you have got to work for the team in the way I want you to.’

Hudson-Odoi clearly got the message, because, once forgiven by the boss, he played very well against the Spaniards.

And I suspect the message got through to others, too.

Maybe today, though, we might see what Tuchel can bring to the party from a tactical side of things.

I wonder would he put a ‘sitter’ on Bruno Fernandes to stop United’s Portuguese star having such a big influence on the match?

Jorginho is an obvious man for the job, N’Golo Kante could do it, too. If Chelsea can clampdown on Bruno, then who is there to win the game for Manchester United?

You are talking about a bit of individual brilliance from Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood or Edinson Cavani.

And the tightest defences, at the biggest clubs, limit what even the most gifted modern-attacking player can do.

Now 13 points adrift of Manchester City, United simply have to win this afternoon’s game to keep the title race alive before the teams clash at the Etihad next Sunday.

Chelsea will want to win it also, to keep their Tuchel-inspired run up the table going so that a fourth-place finish at the end of the season remains a realistic ambition.

Interestingly, the German’s contract with Chelsea is only until May of next year.

So, if Tuchel is fired at any stage, there will be no massive pay-off.

On the other hand, success with Chelsea will leave him open to reaping a huge payday in the summer of next year.

Either by staying at the club and improving his wages, or going to different pastures, where the pressure to succeed might be a little less.

It means Tuchel can act with a free hand at Stamford Bridge. He can take decisions based on ‘what will win me today’s match’, nothing else will enter his mind.

I’d be worried today about United’s defence with players such as Olivier Giroud and Christian Pulisic in opposition.

For all the money spent on it, United’s back line remains nothing more to me than a work in progress, and I don’t have a lot of confidence in them.

United still don’t have a clear and undoubted centre-half partnership in the mould of Gary Pallister/Steve Bruce or Rio Ferdinand/Nemanja Vidic.

Yes, Harry Maguire seems to play every week, but his partner can be any one from Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly or Axel Tuanzebe.

And the goalkeeping position is still not settled. Do United stick with the error-prone David de Gea (inset), on a huge monthly salary, or the promising star Dean Henderson?

This has the makings of a score draw – something that suits neither club.

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