London - Manchester United and Chelsea's chances of a top four Premier League
finish will depend largely on Paul Pogba or Eden Hazard inspiring their
faltering sides over the finish line.
French midfielder Pogba and Belgian captain Hazard will line up on
opposite sides on Sunday as United try to arrest a run of seven defeats
in nine games.
Fourth-place Chelsea, three points ahead of United in sixth, can
realistically end the Red Devils' chances of Champions League football
next season but must end their own run of seven straight away league
defeats to top six opposition to do so.
However, whether Pogba and Hazard will be around next season no
matter their clubs' fate in the next three games is very much in doubt.
The two could be teammates next season with speculation linking both
with a move to Real Madrid. Both have voiced their appreciation for Real
boss Zinedine Zidane and publicly flirted with the idea of a move to
the Spanish giants.
Eleven years on from contesting the Champions League final, the
prospect of losing their landmark talent is a sign of the times for both
Defeat to Manchester City in midweek saw United fall 25 points behind the league leaders.
"That's the reality that we are in. We are now round about where we
have been the last five seasons and that's not good enough," said United
boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Friday.
Pogba was the only player
not from City or title challengers Liverpool to make the PFA team of
the year this week, but for such a precocious talent and a world cup
winner much more is demanded.
His last goal from open play came the last time United and Chelsea
met in the FA Cup back in February. After exploding into life early in
Solskjaer's caretaker reign, Pogba has returned to the peripheral force
he was for much of Jose Mourinho's time in charge at Old Trafford.
However, it is emblematic of the huge challenge that lies ahead of
Solskjaer that the players he is keen to keep hold of such as Pogba and
David de Gea are running down their contracts, opening up the
possibility of a move.
Meanwhile, plenty of players in United's bloated squad cannot be moved on due to their lavish wages.
"Paul has done fantastic for us," insisted Solskjaer.
"The standards he has set when he is creating chances, scoring goals,
doing loads of work, that's just media, supporters, everyone, we look
to Paul. Could you have done better?
"He's a human being as well, we are all the same. We want him to do
well, he's a leader in that dressing room and on the pitch for us."
Many in Manchester, though, would not be heartbroken to lose Pogba
should United recoup the then world record £89 million they paid
Juventus for him in 2016.
By contrast, losing Hazard could be ruinous for Chelsea and
unfortunately for the Londoners, of the two, he looks more likely to
move to Madrid.
Hazard has just one year left on his contract meaning Chelsea risk
losing him for free if they do not let him leave this summer and will be
unable to recruit a replacement unless they can get a FIFA transfer ban
either overturned or suspended.
Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri has repeatedly called for more from
Hazard, but his 19 goals and 13 assists are what have kept a side short
on creativity still in the running for Champions League football next
season, either via the top four or winning the Europa League.
In the prime of their careers, Pogba and Hazard believe the Champions League stage is where they belong.
But the current states of United and Chelsea mean that while moving
to Madrid offers a guarantee of top-level European football, sticking
around in Manchester of west London does not.