The big match-up in the #Premier League this weekend sees the 2013 champions host the early favourites to take the title this season, as #Manchester United take on #Chelsea at Old Trafford. With the Red Devils already a massive ten points behind the Blues after only eight games, a win would seem imperative if the once all conquering United are to stay in the title race, even at this early stage.
True there is a long way to go and many matches to play, but manager Louis van Gaal will be well aware that to drop further behind would leave them in all likelihood too much ground to make up to the end of the season. It would also weaken their position in the Champions League places' hunt, which would seem their minimum requirement from this term. Sir Alex Ferguson always seemed to believe that the time to make the 'surge' towards the summit was in the period after Christmas, when his teams commonly battered their adversaries. One feels that this United team will find it hard to match the drive of those past sides, unless they are far closer to the top by January, although one can not doubt the star quality they possess in their ranks, especially going forward.
The game also sees an intriguing comparison between the two managers, as Chelsea's Jose Mourinho faces another of his past mentors in van Gaal, the man he worked under at Barcelona. Besides the late Bobby Robson, "The Special One" has often cited the Dutchman as being a major influence on his footballing career, but he is very much his own man these days and will no doubt be keen to find a method for turning the match his team's way..
Tactically it promises to be a hard one to call with Chelsea likely to be short of their main strikers, as both top scorer Diego Costa and his expected understudy Loic Remy could both be unavailable. There is a small chance that Costa could recover from the virus and hamstring problems troubling him , but Remy was injured in midweek in the process of scoring in the Champions League so is out. Veteran striker Didier Drogba could lead the line, but his ageing legs are unlikely to be able to maintain the momentum that Mourinho will want from his players for the full ninety minutes, so he may look to employ a 'false' number nine such as Andre Schurrle, as he has used in the past. With Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard pulling the strings in midfield, the Londoners look particularly strong in that department, especially if Ramires is also back to add his energy after recent injury. The preferred defensive set up is also in need of a tweak, given that Cesar Azpilicueta is suspended, but John Terry and Garry Cahill form a formidable partnership at the heart of the defence and it will be interesting to see how Man U go about unsettling them..
United are still unable to call on the services of England captain Wayne Rooney, as he serves the final game of his ban. Summer signing Angel Di Maria looks set to recover from the thigh injury he has been nursing to feature on Sunday, to provide some flair down the left hand side and van Gaal will hope that someone can get on the end of his fizzing left foot deliveries into the box. Perhaps the key element could be the return of midfielder Michael Carrick, a player who has been sorely missed, to provide some stability in the side perhaps alongside Daley Blind among all the flair players they possess. Chelsea will seek to unsettle any United frailties at the back, as the Reds continue to search for the best personnel to shore up a back four that has already conceded twelve goals in the league (compared to Chelsea's eight). Certainly in attack they have several options, with Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao and the mercurial Juan Mata just in behind to select from.
After his marvellous strike against West Brom, Marouane Fellaini may have a part to play in deciding the outcome of the match. The Belgian is perhaps not every fan's dream player, but he may offer United an alternative to unsettle their rivals from set pieces and could be utilised off the bench at the very least.It promises to be an exciting match, with Chelsea perhaps sitting back and hitting United on the break and United hoping for that early breakthrough to bring their opponents out and allow more space in behind. Will it be Mourinho or his former 'master' van Gaal who will enjoy bragging rights, time will tell.