Sunday sees United travel to Stamford Bridge in search of a victory that could prove to be a real speed bump on the Chelsea’s road to Premiership success. This year Chelsea have proven themselves to be real contenders for the title. Many argued that the two Manchester clubs would be the ones fighting it out but Chelsea, in the first few weeks of the season at least, seem intent on crashing that party. Ferguson himself has stated ‘that he’d be ‘surprised if one of us didn’t win it.’ Oscar and Haszard appear to be great signings and Torres, whilst still not scoring too frequently, does appear to be relishing the team being set up to service him. Is a victory against a formidable Chelsea side possible?
If victory is to be achieved then De Gea and his back four are going to have to be quite exceptional and hugely improved from their past few games- the first fifteen/twenty minutes especially. The back four seemingly picks itself right now with Rafael, Evans and a rested duo of Ferdinand and Evra the only fit senior options. Smalling, recently returned to training, will do well to make the bench.
Ferguson has toyed with midfield this season and is edging more and more towards playing with three in midfield or, as Sky and the BBC would have us to believe, a diamond midfield. Read Phil McNulty’s blog here. I’m not too sure that it really plays as a diamond. I think it’s too fluid and moving a formation for it to be so rigidly cast. One would have to assume that however you’d like to label this new formation (41212 or 433) Ferguson is likely to flood the midfield tomorrow in an attempt to squash the talents of the Chelsea engine. Anderson, Scholes, Carrick, Fletcher and the ever-improving and ever-impressing Cleverley will all be vying for starting spots and it’s tough to pick out a three. Carrick and Cleverley will feel confident of starting spots and maybe Scholes’ experience may give him the edge over Fletcher and Anderson. Kagawa doesn’t come into the equation as he’s been ruled out for up to four weeks.This central midfield would spell a match on the sidelines for Young, Nani and Valencia – the most obvious victims of the new central way of play.
Rooney and Robin van Persie are almost definites to start with Hernandez and Welbeck looking to join them in attack. Hernandez has earned himself a few detractors this season but will have won over a few fans with his performance midweek. Hopefully he’ll be given the chance on Sunday to impress on Sunday and string together a few goalscoring appearances.
Jonny Evans has recently stated that United may have a slight edge over Chelsea this weekend due to the fact that we’ve rested players midweek whilst they travelled to Donetsk with an almost full strength squad. He may have a point!
Terry, to state the bleeding obvious, is suspended this weekend so will not be wearing the captain’s armband and Frank Lampard is out through injury. This will leave Chelsea shorn of a certain leadership and authority and hopefully United can capitalise on this to prevent a seven point gap opening up early in the season. Di Matteo recognises the importance of this fixture in establishing themselves domestically this season. He knows that a win here would make a real statement but he’s keen to concede that ‘It’s still a bit early in the season, I would say, for a game like this to be decisive.’
The big question is can United’s defence cope with Mata, Oscar, Haszard and Torres?
- Chelsea are unbeaten in this Stamford Bridge fixture for the past ten meetings.
- However, United are unbeaten in their last five games against Chelsea (4W 1D)
- Chelsea are the only team who lay claim to a 100% home record this season.
- Van Persie has scored five goals in his past two visists to Stamford Bridge.
- United have conceded first in eight of the twelve league and cup games played this season.
As I hinted towards, the way United can win this one is to hold strong at the back and try to contain the quartet of Torres, Mata, Oscar and Haszard. This is a huge ask but if the back four can do this and a front three can attack a Terry-less defence then a win or, more likely, a draw isn’t beyond reasonable hope.
Fancy a Flutter? (Odds provided by WilliamHill)
- Van Persie to score first in 3-1 win 110/1
- Rio Ferdinand to score first 50/1
- Van Persie hat-trick 40/1
- United to come from behind and win 9/2