The biggest match of the Premier League season so far comes round on Sunday, as United entertain title rivals Chelsea at the Theatre of Dreams.
Normally we’re graced with this fixture, either the home or the away version, later on in the season – maybe in the dying weeks as a title decider, or maybe around Christmas time…unless one team is seriously off form, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek decide not to clear snow from their pitch and surrounding areas, conveniently allowing a postponement!
But it’s here as match number five of the domestic season, and although the praise has been heaped on the reds for an astonishing start to the campaign, Chelsea are only a few points behind in third place. Their start has been quiet, but effective – only dropping a couple of points on the opening day of the season against Stoke City.
In what could be our first real test of the season, both sides will be gunning for victory and one thing is for certain…this game won’t be a breeze.
Despite a solid performance in midweek against Benfica, Anders Lindergaard will vacate the ‘keeper’s jersey for David De Gea to return to the fold. Sir Alex stated quite clearly in midweek – as he has done before – that the Spaniard is his number one choice at the moment, and he is sticking with him for League games.
With Rio Ferdinand returning against Bolton, he is likely to face the Londoners’ and it’s my belief that he will partner either Phil Jones or Chris Smalling in the middle, with the other one taking right back slot.
A rest for Young and Anderson for the midweek Champions League game at Benfica will mean that they are likely contenders for two of the midfield berths, and I’m putting my money on Carrick to be the man to take the other central spot, and Antonio Valencia to play on the right hand side, allowing a more balanced attacking and solid midfield unit for this one, as opposed to the all out attack we’ve gone for in the previous four league games.
Up top, who can stop Wayne Rooney? David Luiz might – he has done before, albeit recklessly – but he couldn’t stop Hernandez in the opening stages of their last visit to Manchester. Rooney and Hernandez will be our front pairing on Sunday.
Young manager – old team?
34 year old Andre Villas-Boas came in to Chelsea in the summer, after bigger names had – as usual – been linked to the post. The former Porto man has shown a lot of courage so far this term though, dropping Fernando Torres to the bench for last weeks game against Sunderland in favour of Daniel Sturrage, and also starting his first Champions League game without Frank Lampard and John Terry. The reliance on Lampard has been there for a long time at Stamford Bridge, and this may be the season that he starts to be used sparingly to enable Chelsea to kick on with different midfield options. Will he be able to cope with United’s midfield if he plays? I feel he’ll start on the bench.
One player who will be a danger is Juan Mata. The £26m summer signing from Valencia is an exciting and troublesome player, who can be a big hit at Chelsea if he fits in to the side that Villas-Boas is trying to create. I think we’ll need to watch and contain him on Sunday – he may be Chelsea’s biggest threat.
Rumour has it that under-fire Fernando Torres will start against the reds, but Chelsea boss won’t be drawn on questions from the press.
United will be missing Tom Cleverley, Rafael, Danny Welbeck and Nemanja Vidic is still out of action. Chelsea’s only doubt is Didier Drogba – still suffering the after effects of concussion.
So – the outcome of this one? I’m not thinking that this will be a walkover by any means, but I do see a gulf between the two sides that strongly favours United. On fire, with 18 goals in four games (a new record) and Rooney scoring eight of them. Chelsea will have to stop him, without being over run in midfield. Mata and Meireles have been Chelsea’s star men this season, but there seems to be a few questions about their performances despite picking up 10 points from 12.
I can see nothing but a United win, and I would be more than happy with a 2-1 victory.
Wherever you’re watching it, enjoy the game.
Follow me on Twitter: @stevecrab