It’s a rare occasion when United are labelled underdogs at Old Trafford, but such has been Chelsea’s blistering start to the campaign, coupled with a difficult start to proceedings for Louis Van Gaal’s side that in this instance, that is in fact the case. Tickets for the game (as with any other United game) are hard come by, but if you keep a close eye on the Man Utd ticketing website at LiveFootballTickets.com you should be able to get some nice deals for future United games.
The Reds endured another frustrating night on Monday night at The Hawthorns, relying on a measured Daley Blind strike in the game’s dying embers to ensure they could exit with a crumb and avoid a complete U-turn in confidence ahead of the visit of the league’s runaway leaders.
Monday’s result was hardly ideal preparation ahead of by the far the biggest test of Van Gaal’s short Old Trafford tenure, although the team’s desire to rescue the match is a plus point which can be carried forward.
The Manager described the performance as our best of the season so far, and had it not been for two defensive lapses of concentration, could easily have seen a comfortable victory.
Defensive misdemeanours continue to wreak havoc on United’s early season, with Phil Jones and Luke Shaw culpable on Monday night to allow West Brom to make the most of the only two real chances created during the match. These however – concerning and frustrating as they may be – are not yet cause for major alarm bells as the defence look to overcome a transitional period (it was after all the first time that backline had turned out together, and Phil Jones was returning from injury which had kept him from developing a partnership with Marcos Rojo).
Another alarming factor has to be the lack of real chances created. Against West Brom the stats read 22 shots for United over the course of the 90 minutes, but it’s hard to remember anything clear cut for the Reds besides a Van Persie effort which struck the post in the second half, with both United goals efforts from the edge of the books seemingly coming from nothing. For all the possession we come across, very few of these are translated into the type of chances that strikers of the calibre and Falcao feed off.
Falcao’s predatory instincts are plain to see, yet the number of real goalscoring opportunities he has had in a red shirt can be counted in single figures, being left to create opportunities for himself, or – in the case of his solitary strike – act on impulse as a misdirected Angel Di Maria effort found itself in the Colombian’s path.
For the outstanding work done by Di Maria in the early stages of the season, the midfielder often gives the impression that he is expected to produce flashes of brilliance every time he finds himself in possession. More often than not, the Argentine’s superior qualities shine through, and he has been able to do so, but has been rare to see the team’s attacks build gradually, often seeming rushed. A trait that could conceivably be exploited to disastrous effects at the hands of the league’s leaders.
Chelsea will have every right to be confident as they travel to Old Trafford in light of recent results – fresh off a 6-0 Champions League hiding handed out to Maribor – as a share of the points with City remains the only blip on an otherwise perfect copybook in their domestic campaign.
The clash marks only the second competitive meeting between the two managers, with Mourinho coming out on top over his old mentor as his Inter side defeated Van Gaal’s Bayern in the 2010 Champions League final.
The Blues come to Old Trafford as the only Premier League opponents United have lost more games against (15) than won against (13), and midfielder Cesc Fabregas will be the one to watch to avoid the deficit becoming even greater.
If things had panned out differently, the Spanish playmaker could have seen himself in the home dressing room at Old Trafford, but instead returns as the main source of inspiration for Jose Mourinho, with seven assists and one goal – a superb team effort against Crystal Palace last week – to show for his efforts, repaying the seemingly poultry £30million dished out to see the Spaniard’s return to British soil.
With Fabregas the main danger man, cutting off the supply will be key, and while Daley Blind has performed admirably in picking up the midfield dirty work this season, an extra force could be needed alongside the Dutchman to provide the defensive screen needed to halt the former Arsenal man’s advances.
After scoring a sublime effort on Monday evening, just moments after unzipping his tracksuit, Marouanne Fellaini’s confidence with the club will be at an all-time high. The midfielder has yet to leave his mark the way he or David Moyes would have envisaged after making the short trip from Merseyside last summer, but the Belgian’s tenacity and physicality could see him get the nod alongside Blind over Ander Herrera, who – by his high standards – had a relatively disappointing evening against the Baggies.
It’s hard to take comfort from news of Diego Costa’s apparent absence from Jose Mourinho’s line-up. The Brazilian come Spaniard has been an suspected injury doubt ahead of almost all of the Blues domestic encounters this season, whereas in reality he has only sat out one of these, totalling 9 league goals throughout apparent fitness woes. Whether murmurs were believable last week when the Chelsea manager suggested that the striker would play no part at Old Trafford, are even less so given his “slight chance” of a return – convenient in the wake of Loic Remy’s midweek injury which will see the French striker ruled out.
Azpilicueta sits out for the Blues as he serves a suspension so Felipe Luis will deputise at left-back, while Ramires could return for Chelsea who can otherwise expect to name a strong and dangerous line up at Old Trafford.
Mourinho’s side will themselves be given plenty of problems to pose, as United’s squad – although yet to fully click in to place – contains some incredible attacking talent and a huge step up in opposition gives us the opportunity so see how some of the new arrivals handle the big occasion.
In terms on United team news, skipper Wayne Rooney sits out the final game of his suspension, while Di Maria should shake off a thigh strain to quash any lingering doubts after the mecurial midfielder’s early exit on Monday evening.
Michael Carrick made a long awaited return for the Under 21 side against West Ham on Friday but is unlikely to feature while Valencia, Evans, McNair and Lingard remain sidelined.
Juan Mata will face his former side for the first time since a £37million pound switch last January with plenty to prove. Not only will Chelsea’s two-time player of the year be out to prove Jose Mourinho wrong – after instead favouring Oscar in the number 10 role at Chelsea – but also to overcome a purple patch from which he struggles to get out from.
Rooney’s three match suspension gave a perfect window of opportunity for Mata – who under Moyes had found himself performing in a number of different roles – able to come in and prove that he could make the number 10 position at United his own. Confidence seems to have overcome the Spaniard this season though, perhaps for the first time in his career knowing that he seemingly doesn’t automatically earn himself in his team’s starting berth.
The Chelsea tie marks the last of allotted three matches under Rooney’s suspension where Mata can come in and prove his worth and give Louis van Gaal the kind of headache United fan’s pray he will have to deal with ahead of next weekend’s Manchester derby.
Victory over Chelsea – however likely that may be – would leave the Reds in 5th place, one ahead of Arsenal and just two points behind Manchester City – after Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to West Ham – so not quite the disastrous situation that has been made out.
A win for Mourinho’s side however would see them 13 points clear of United and eight ahead of City, making anyone willing to bet against the Stamford Bridge outfit a lucky man indeed.
There’s no reason why at home we cannot cause Mourinho’s side problems and come away with the three points, but it relies heavily on a number of factors clicking at the same time. Putting the ball in the back of the net has proved much taxing than keeping it out, which is where the Reds backline will have to be almost faultless, even if Costa does sit this one out.
Victory would be huge for United and Van Gaal and would provide the confidence builder which could really ignite our season, particularly with the Manchester derby looming over and hard to kick from the back of the mind.
Probable line up: De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Rojo, Shaw, Blind, Herrera/Fellaini, Di Maria, Mata, Van Persie, Falcao