Manchester United vs. Chelsea | Match Preview

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By Mark Young

Introduction

The second part of this weekend’s Super Sunday is at Old Trafford where Sir Alex Ferguson’s young guns take on a Chelsea side managed by the youngest boss in the league.

Both sides are unbeaten in the Premier League this season. Manchester United have won all of their opening four fixtures and in style too where as Chelsea have won three and managed a goal less draw away at the impressive Stoke City on the opening weekend but the Blues’ season seems to have been taken up by negativity.

Most of the negativity has come through the lack of goals scored by Fernando Torres. He has still only scored one goal since his £50 million move from Liverpool in January and that as against West Ham. Villas Boas has stated that it doesn’t matter if Torres is scoring as long as the team is winning but he must be a little bit worried with the striker’s form. There is no doubt that the Spaniard is world class but he really just needs a lucky goal to kick things off.

Torres has been sceptical of some of his team mates, saying on his personal website that the midfield is slow. In a midfield of Lampard, Mikel and Ramires he does have a point but Chelsea addressed this and Raul Miereles and Juan Mata were brought in to fundamentally help Torres find his goal scoring form. The confusing thing there, is that the first time the two midfielders play on the same pitch, Torres was left on the bench at Sunderland. Daniel Sturridge played and he scored. El Nino did end up playing on Tuesday in the Champions League though. He looked busy and sharp but still didn’t get on the score sheet. He had a couple of half chances but he did get two very good assists laying off for David Luiz to score the opener and sending he ball across the six yard box for Mata to tap in.

On the other hand it has been pretty plain sailing for United or it has seemed to be. Goals are being fired in left, right and centre especially from a striker who couldn’t be in better form compared to Torres. Wayne Rooney has back to back Premier League hat tricks and is on fire. He didn’t get on the score sheet playing as a lone striker against Benfica on Wednesday night but he will once again be teamed up with Javier Hernandez on Sunday afternoon, a partnership which is blossoming with every minute on the pitch. With five goals between them against Bolton last Saturday both strikers will be hungry for more.

Team Selection Thoughts

Ferguson has once again got selection headaches but good ones. He is still without Vidic, Rafael, Welbeck and Tom Cleverley for Sunday’s game but everyone else is fit. It is interesting to see what he will do in defence but as Rio Ferdinand was left out of the squad to travel to Portugal it would be a good assumption to make that he plays. Phil Jones should keep his place in central defence which would mean Jonny Evans dropping out the side as Chris Smalling and Patrice Evra taking on the full back positions.

It is unfortunate that Tom Cleverley suffered ligament damage against Bolton as his partnership in the midfield with Anderson was looking to flourish. Anderson was left out on Wednesday but he should regain his place on Sunday, it is his partner who will be the headache. Fletcher, Carrick, Giggs and Park could all play in that position after coming through Wednesday night’s game. The favourite would probably be Michael Carrick who last season formed an impressive partnership with the Brazilian. Darren Fletcher’s return is a boost and Ryan Giggs’ second half performance could fast track him to that starting role. That is the only hole to fill. Nani and Ashley Young should both play on the wings even though Valencia and Park played on Wednesday and Rooney and Hernandez must start up front.

The biggest talking point of the Benfica match was between the sticks. Anders Lindegaard started in place of David De Gea and faired really well. There are shouts from some parts that Lindegaard should be playing but Ferguson saw it as a chance to take the Spaniard out for a game when he can. He has improved week on week and the only way that De Gea will get better is if he carries on playing. It is fully expected that the Spaniard will keep his number one jersey on Sunday despite having a very able deputy who is ready to step up when called upon.

Villas Boas has a couple of migraines compared to Ferguson’s headaches. Daniel Sturridge has had two very impressive performances against Sunderland and Bayer Leverkusen and Torres looked sharp in mid week. Juan Mata should play and those three up front should be how Chelsea line up especially with Drogba still  injured. If Torres is back on the bench it will surely show the growing question marks his manager has over him. David Luiz returned mid week and scored Chelsea’s opener and he should play alongside the Champions League rested John Terry. The Torres described slow midfield will have Frank Lampard back after missing out against Leverkusen and Mikel should “sit” although Ramires could play that role. Raul Miereles should start again to add a bit more invention to that Chelsea midfield.

Opposition View

Here, at Sretford End Arising we spoke to The Shed End Forum and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game, Andres Villas Boas and Torres:

Sunday’s game

It’s an interesting one, because for the first time in a few seasons most would probably not expect us to be in the contest. Your good form and our attempts to adapt to AVB’s style of play would mean I’d suggest you’ll be quite short with the bookies. We’re likely to go 4-3-3 with Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Mikel, Ramires, Lampard, Mata, Sturridge and Torres as our line-up with Luiz perhaps coming in after his good match against Leverkusen. It’s hard to know exactly how we’ll approach it, but I’d suggest we’ll do our best to disrupt your midfield two with the high pressing up the park in order to cut supply to Rooney and the wingers. In possession we’ll look to keep it simple I’d say, try and get Mata between the lines and see how it works out. These matches generally are so tight that most of the time it comes down to a set piece or a mistake to decide them anyway.

Summer Transfer Activity

Overall, very happy. Disappointed we didn’t get Modric but at the price Spurs were holding out for (and what we reportedly offered) he wasn’t worth it. Mata looks like he could be absolute class and will definitely improve our team. I wasn’t massively enthused by the signing of Meireles but he has started well. I don’t think he will set games on fire but he is reliable and consistent. Although not a signing Sturridge coming back is big for us as he is quick sharp and a much better player than when we loaned him out. The other youngsters coming in (Lukaku, Piazon Romeu and Courtois) all look good prospects and hopefully with other youngsters in the squad they will get playing time.

Andres Villas Boas First Impressions

Mourinho; with charm and manners.

His appointment is an obvious risk, but it will pay off if we stick by him for a period of time. Everyone would prefer some longevity and Villas Boas has the chance to do that being young. He seems very confident and assured in press conferences (a throwback to Mourinho) and hopefully this confidence is passed onto the players. This age problem that every media person has brought up will be an issue at all.

It will take a while for him to fully integrate his tactical plans, but he has impressed so far with his willingness to make a change when things aren’t going well, something that Ancelotti may have been a little loathe to do at times. A lot of our tactics under Ancelotti appeared to be just ”going through the motions” so it’s a refreshing time for all. Sunday is his first big test and we’ll be able to say a bit more about him after then.

Torres

This season is Torres’ starting point, and based on that it is a bit early with new players around him settling in. Obviously we can’t cater the whole team to him but players like Mata and Sturridge should help him. It is a strength of Villas Boas that he is prepared to drop him (Sunderland) if needs be. By Christmas if we are still talking about him not scoring then maybe we can say yes he is an expensive mistake. But at the moment I want to see how the Mata Torres and Sturridge front three gets on.

Rene Meulensteen: “Chelsea’s squad is too old, and their tempo is not high enough to win the Premier League”

You guys have been calling us old for about the last three seasons, the first of which we won a double, so we’re not too worried about that accusation. We’ve become very much a confidence squad over the past couple of seasons, mixing brilliant quick attacking play when the likes of Drogba and Malouda are on with some cumbersome and unimaginative play at other times when we’re not on. Nothing changed tactically last season from when we were winning 6-0 at the start to when we couldn’t score for the life of us during the winter.

This season is one of transition, Villas Boas clearly prefers a more high-tempo approach with pressing from the front and quicker movement of the ball. Mata and Meireles are certainly great additions in that regard. I think you won’t see the new Chelsea emerge until later in the year, but if we can keep picking up points early on, we have made a habit of coming home like a train during ‘squeaky bum’ time over the past few seasons. So while we’re not among the two favourites at this stage, I’d suggest we’re far more likely to be there fighting you at the end of the season than City or any of the rest.

Three Key Battles

Ashley Young vs. Jose Bosingwa

Young was left out against Benfica as Ferguson knew there were big tests on the horizon. Jose Bosingwa has got the right back spot at the moment in Villas Boas’ team but this will be his biggest test. Bosingwa likes to go forward but his defensive game will need to be in top gear against the England winger who has started the season in spectacular form.

Javier Hernandez vs. David Luiz

Chicharito scored Man United’s opener in this fixture last year and in the first game in the league at Stamford Bridge Luiz scored Chelsea’s equaliser. Both players have had big impacts and they will be coming up against each other once again. Luiz could have been sent off at Stamford Bridge and he will have to keep an eye on Hernandez as he will be playing off the shoulder of the Brazilian and he will not get the same protection at Old Trafford as he arguably got at Stamford Bridge last term.

Chris Smalling vs. Juan Mata

Mata has started his Chelsea career in superb form and already looks a class act and will surely be a great signing for the Blues. He should start on the left of a front three and that will put him up against Chris Smalling. He reverted to centre back mid week but will continue at right back where he has been impressing this season even making his international debut.

Summary

It is too early to say what kind of an impact this game will have on the season ahead but neither team will want to lose against a top rival but three points could really boost morale at both clubs. A win puts United five points clear of the Blues and that is pretty big early on but not unobtainable. If Chelsea win it turns the title race into the Manchester clubs plus Chelsea in the eyes of everyone who has already claimed it is a two horse race. The first proper Super Sunday of the season could well prove to be vital.

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