LONDON (Reuters) – Michael Carrick played his first game as Manchester United’s ‘pre-interim’ manager with flying colors on Tuesday and if he did organize a Premier League win at Chelsea on Sunday he could even win a longer spell at bar.
The former midfielder has been thrown into the hot seat of Old Trafford after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking following Saturday’s 4-1 loss at Watford.
Oddly, the club said Carrick was holding the fort as they searched for an “interim manager” until the end of the season, before a full-time replacement was hired.
Carrick took it all in his stride and United sealed their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League with an impressive 2-0 win over Spanish club Villarreal.
But Chelsea, Premier League leaders at Stamford Bridge, present a much more difficult challenge.
As United won away in Spain, Thomas Tuchel’s side dismantled Juventus 4-0 and they enter the weekend with a three-point lead at the top while United are eighth after dropping four of his last five league games.
Chelsea will also be aware that a league win over United is long overdue, having failed in their last seven encounters and failed to score in the last four.
Carrick will be without captain and center-back Harry Maguire after his red card at Watford and Raphael Varane is injured, so organizing a rearguard who has conceded 15 goals in five league games will be Carrick’s headache.
Victor Lindelof, who impressed at Villarreal, and Eric Bailly could team up in defense while Dutchman Donny van de Beek could secure his first league start this season in midfield as Carrick looks to solidify United’s soft center .
Goalkeeper David de Gea, who called United’s defeat at Watford “embarrassing”, said the team must maintain the level they have achieved in Spain.
“Last week was tough. But that probably makes the team stronger. We have to show again on Sunday when we play a huge game again, so let’s see if we can keep winning games.”
Chelsea will be without Ben Chilwell who seriously injured his knee against Juventus and possibly N’Golo Kante who limped with a stroke but that aside, are in great shape.
“Sometimes you get the momentum and that is clearly the case now,” Tuchel said after his 50th game at the head of the club. It’s a strong, hungry group and a pleasure to train them. “
The top three in the league are already in a class of their own and Manchester City, second, have the chance to illustrate this by facing West Ham United, fourth, on Sunday, supported by their victory over Paris St Germain.
Liverpool, in third place, welcomes Southampton.
The weekend’s action begins with Arsenal at home against the latest club Newcastle United whose new manager Eddie Howe will once again watch from afar after a positive COVID-19 test.
Without a win after 12 games and five points behind Leeds United, 17th, Newcastle must restart their season and stem an ugly record against Arsenal who have 16 defeats in their last 17 league clashes with the Gunners.
Steven Gerrard will be hoping to build on Aston Villa’s victory over Brighton and Hove Albion in his first game in charge, as he takes on former opponent midfielder Patrick Vieira, now in charge of Crystal Palace, at Selhurst Park Saturday.
Second from bottom Norwich City, whose new boss Dean Smith also started with a win, will seek a third win on the spin as they host Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur travel to Burnley on Sunday when Leicester City are at home at Watford.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Shrivathsa Sridhar)