MANCHESTER UNITED

v

CHELSEA

Old Trafford, Manchester

September 18, 2011; 15:00 GMT

***

The biggest game of the weekend takes us to Old Trafford where Andre Villas-Boas and his men will be ready to lock horns with the league leaders Manchester United. This game has had huge significance in the recent past, particularly in the last two seasons as this fixture has virtually decided the league title on both the occasions. Despite the media pretty much ruling Chelsea out of the title race, Sir Alex would be the last person to count the Blues out of the equation and hence will be more than eager to get all three points from this game. Villas-Boas, on the other hand, will also be looking forward to this game as a chance for his team to make a statement about being serious title contenders, come the end of the season.

Manchester United have begun the league season like a rampaging river, pushing aside every obstacle coming in their way. Traditionally known to be ‘slow starters’, the Red Devils have made a perfect start to this season, winning the first four games and scoring eighteen in the process. But to be fair, they have not been tested properly thus far. Having struggled to a win at West Brom, United have faced out of form teams in Spurs and Arsenal. Although the 5-0 Bolton was a very impressive result, the Trotters did miss a lot of chances going forward. Hence, this game could be termed as the first real test for United and Sir Alex would be desperately hoping for his young team to pass this test with flying colors.

Chelsea, on the other hand, have made a contrasting start to the season as they have struggled to score in their first four games, having put the ball in the back of the net only seven times. However, despite their struggles, they have managed to get the points on the board which is what matters the most. Villas-Boas will be more than delighted if his team continues to do the same and manages to get three points out of the game as this is certainly a game where result counts much more than performance.

Team News and Tactical Brief

MANCHESTER UNITED

There is good news for Sir Alex on the injury front as there have been no new injuries from the Benfica game and all the players have returned unscathed. Also, the fact that the likes of Valencia, Fletcher and Lindegaard made their first outings this season and got some important game time under their blt would be pleasing for the manager. However, there are some injury problems for United as Vidic and Rafael are out while Tom Cleverley, who was injured by a reckless tackle from Kevin Davies last weekend, is facing another three weeks on the sidelines. There is some good news though, as Danny Welbeck has returned to training and might be fit to start the game against Stoke next week. Rest of the squad is fit and raring to go, posing a selection headache for the wily old Scot.

Fergie had used his rotation policy to full effect for the midweek game in Benfica fielding just three players that started the game at the Reebok Stadium. This can be used as a bit of an indication for the team that could be named for the weekend game, with the rested players likely to return to the starting line-up. Also, being a home game, the manager is likely to return to his preferred 4-4-1-1 formation, having adopted a 4-5-1 for the Champions League game. This means that Chicharito will come back in the starting line-up along with Young and Anderson who were both rested in midweek. While Anderson will be the play-maker, Carrick will play as the anchor man in midfield, sitting in front of the back four and trying to nip the Chelsea attacks in the bud. On the right, there could be a toss-up between Nani and Valencia. Although the latter gave a torrid time to Ashley Cole when Chelsea were at Old Trafford last time around, the manager might just pick Nani ahead of him given the fact that Valencia is returning from injury and has already played a game in the week. Rooney will once again be playing in the ‘hole’ dropping deep from time to time to be part of the build-up play, with Chicharito playing on the last man and causing problems for the Chelsea defence.

At the back, Rio Ferdinand is likely to return after being rested for the game against Benfica. Chris Smalling is expected to play alongside him with Jones taking the right back spot having impressed so much in that role against Bolton. Patrice Evra will continue as a left back. David De Gea will return in goal despite Anders Lindegaard having a wonderful game against Benfica as Sir Alex still rates the Spaniard as his number one.

Probable Starting Line-up: (4-4-1-1) De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Young; Rooney; Hernandez.

football formations

CHELSEA

There are very few injury worries for Andre Villas-Boas on his first trip to Old Trafford with Didier Drogba and long-term absentee Michael Essien being the only players missing the trip due to injury. Although Drogba has returned to training, this game comes too soon for the Ivorian and hence will not take part on Sunday. The other slight worry for the manager is that both of his reserve keepers – Hilario and Turnbull are struggling with slight injuries, however, the Portuguese has stated that one of them will be fit to take the bench. Rest of the squad is fit for selection.

Villas-Boas is likely to go in with a 4-3-3 formation as he did against Sunderland, making it a man’s advantage in the centre of the park against a two man midfield for United. However, there could be one change made as he might opt to play Mikel ahead of Ramires to sit in-front of the back four and allow Meireles and Lampard dictate play for the Blues. Up-front, Torres is likely to keep his place ahead of Nicolas Anelka as the Spaniard looked quite good against Leverkusen in midweek, setting up both Chelsea goals. Alongside him will be youngster Daniel Sturridge and Chelsea’s man of the moment – Juan Mata.

In defence, Jose Bosingwa, who has been in fine form at the start of the season, will continue to keep his place at right back. John Terry will return to the starting line-up after being rested in midweek while David Luiz could get the nod ahead of Ivanovic to partner John Terry as the Brazilian looked more than impressive in the Champions League game. Ashley Cole will be the left-back with Petr Cech playing in goal.

A lot will depend on how well the Chelsea defense can cope with the fluid movement of United’s attack, as the visitors are bound to get an opportunity at the other end to score.

Probable Starting Line-up: (4-3-3) Cech; Bosingwa, Luiz, Terry, Cole; Mikel, Lampard, Meireles; Sturridge, Torres, Mata

Key Facts

  1. Chelsea are the only team in the Premier League to have an advantage over United in the head-to-head (13 wins to United’s 11)
  2. United are currently on a seventeen match winning streak at Old Trafford in the league.
  3. Chelsea have managed only one clean sheet in their last eight league games.

TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Juan Mata (Chelsea)

The Spaniard has been a breath of fresh air since he joined the club in August as he has provided a much needed incisive edge to the team. Claiming Giggs to be his idol, Mata will be eager to perform well at Old Trafford and if he succeds in doing so, United will definitely be in for a hard time.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea

With both teams arguably facing their first real tests of the season, this is one of the hardest games to call. However, the home advantage will prove to be a deciding factor for United as they will edge out their opponents in a tight game.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST