By Daniel Feliciano.
Manchester United travel to Stamford Bridge on Sunday looking to maintain their title challenge while knocking Chelsea out of the title race too.
With United currently joint top of the league, they’ll be looking to at least stay level on points with Manchester City who host Fulham on Saturday evening. A slip up from either side could hand the advantage to their rivals in the title race.
A win for United in this game will see them move an amazing 15 points clear of their opponents, who last year pushed them all the way in their quest for the record breaking 19th league title. A win for Chelsea would see them shut the gap to 9 points and bring them closer to 3rd place Tottenham.
Earlier in the season, Man United took all 3 points against Chelsea with a scintillating first half performance giving them a 3-1 victory, with goals from Chris Smalling, Nani and Wayne Rooney. The game is more memorable however, not for Fernando Torres’ second half goal, but for his open goal miss at the Stretford End.
Team Selection Thoughts
Man United come into this game with the boost that Rooney, Nani and Phil Jones should all recover from their knocks to be in contention on Sunday. After all 3 missed Tuesday’s game vs Stoke, their return to fitness will be seen as a huge plus point for this game.
David De Gea is expected to return in goal after he missed the midweek game through illness. Michael Owen, Anders Lindegaard and Nemanja Vidic are all out injured for the foreseeable future, while Ashley Young and Anderson could make the bench. Tom Cleverley will travel with the squad but is unlikely to feature at all.
If Manchester United continue with their regular 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/4-5-1 formation this season, I’d expect to see Wayne Rooney partner this seasons shining star Danny Welbeck up front, though he will drop deep when Chelsea are in possession to make a three man midfield.
Ryan Giggs will probably start in centre midfield after Paul Scholes completed 90 minutes midweek. In-form Michael Carrick will partner him, with Nani and blistering winger Antonio Valencia taking the flanks. Valencia’s form has been superb in recent times and he could be the key factor in this game.
Despite the return of Phil Jones, I except Rio Ferdinand to continue partnering Jonny Evans at the heart of the Manchester United defence, with Chris Smalling at right back ahead of Brazilian Rafael. Patrice Evra will captain the side from left-back.
Chelsea are still without Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou who are on African Cup of Nations duty with Ivory Coast, so Fernando Torres will continue to lead the line. Danger man Mata will play from the left with Daniel Sturridge on the right. A midfield 3 of Meireles, Lampard and Mikel can be expected. John Terry has been ruled out after missing the midweek draw with Swansea. Jose Bosingwa will deputise at left-back for the suspended Ashley Cole and Ivanovic will move across to right back. Andre Villas-Boas will hand a debut to Gary Cahill and he will partner the eccentric David Luiz at the centre of defence.
Three Key Battles
David Luiz vs Danny Welbeck
Danny Welbeck has been a big hit this season after his loan last year. His movement and direct approach adds a new dimension to United’s attack and seems to bring the rest of the attacking players into the game more. With captain John Terry ruled out with a knee injury, David Luiz will be the man tasked with stopping Danny Welbeck. His pace should be enough to at least manage Welbeck, however his positioning has been under much scrutiny since his move last January. He’ll have to be on top form to keep the in-form Mancunian striker quiet.
Juan Mata vs Chris Smalling
The World Cup winner is without doubt Chelsea’s danger man in this Sunday’s game and will use all his skill and know how to create havoc down the left flank. Spanish team-mate Fernando Torres will be hoping Mata can continue his form and feed him the chances he needs to break his duck. Chris Smalling has showed this season that he knows how to perform at right-back and he’ll need to be at his best and get help from winger Antonio Valencia in order to keep the playmaker quiet.
Jose Bosingwa vs Antonio Valencia
With Ashley Cole suspended after a red card mid-week and Antonio Valencia in breath-taking form, it could prove to be a long afternoon for Portuguese international Jose Bosingwa. After Valencia strolled past Cole time and again last season, Bosingwa will be hoping Valencia doesn’t turn up anywhere near as good otherwise he’ll struggle to get anywhere near the Ecuadorian winger.
With both teams needing a victory from Sunday’s game, it could either be a very tight encounter or a very open affair. I’m predicting it to be more open than tight with a fair few goals. I think United’s form could see them snatch a win here, but it won’t come easy. Any win would do, but I see an exciting 2-3 win in the offing with a moment of magic being the difference.
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