David Moyes was perhaps overstepping his bounds when he challenged the Premier League over Manchester United’s difficult opening fixture schedule, but he can’t be faulted for being too upset. A quick look at United’s first few matches shows that they’ll be facing some of their toughest challenges straight out of the gate. Their opening game against Swansea was arguably supposed to be much more difficult than it was, and now today they have to face Chelsea, their direct competition for the Premier League title. They’ll need to keep one eye on Liverpool away the following week before what could be an easier match against Crystal Palace at home. But it cranks right back up again the following week away to Manchester City, who are also biting for the title despite a shock loss yesterday against Cardiff.
They say you can’t look too far ahead though, and right now Moyes and his squad are concentrating on the first match against their rival title contenders, Chelsea. Of course, one match won’t be enough to determine who has the superior squad, but it will be a nice benchmark to see where the two clubs are as they being their campaign. Both the players and the table will have had enough time to settle come their second match in January and that may be a better indication of who these teams are.
Lineups are tricky to guess in a fixture like this as both teams are deep in certain positions and have players that can be placed in multiple roles. United and Chelsea have been built to withstand simultaneous cup runs, and with it being so early in the season, and fatigue not playing a role in who sits out, it’s difficult to guess what sides these managers will field. One of the main questions will be the inclusion of Wayne Rooney. He had a great outing against Swansea and would be a no-brainer against Chelsea in a normal situation. But with the Blues chasing after him so heavily, and a new bid recently offered, Moyes faces a delicate choice including him, even as a substitute.
Whether or not Rooney is on the pitch, this match is well suited for Shinji Kagawa. The Japanese playmaker is a great foil for Mata, who will most likely be in Mourinho’s starting eleven to control the game’s tempo. Phil Jones has also had a decent start to the season and would do well to play a bit forward with Carrick, who was one of the best players in the league last year.
Moyes will want to do whatever he can to strengthen in the center as Chelsea have the best midfield in the league. Hazard, Mata, Oscar, Schurrle, De Bruyne, Lampard, van Ginkel, and Ramires are all fighting for a spot and really, there’s no bad combination amongst them. United don’t necessarily have to be better in the center of the pitch, they just have to be good enough to get passes to van Persie and Welbeck. Moyes prefers a wider style of play, but he’ll have to be careful. If his players go wide they’ll have Hazard and Schurrle waiting for them.
It’s clear that Mourinho likes his players to pressure the ball, and he’s made sure they’re fit enough to do it. The Chelsea’s midfield could give United all kinds of headaches, but they’ll need to be careful. The Blues have had phenomenal starts to both their matches this season, but they’ve gone for a more relaxed approach as the games progress. This is a United team that will punish them if they sit back late on like they did against Hull and Aston Villa.
The start-of-season excitement is still fresh and bolsters the anticipation around this huge clash. Both clubs have superiority in different areas of the pitch and it may come down to a battle of wits between the managers. We all enjoy the weekends, but Mondays like today aren’t looking so bad either, is it?
Editor’s note: For viewers in the United States, the match will be shown live on US television on NBC Sports Network, as well as live on NBC Sports Live Extra. Coverage begins at 2:30pm ET, while the kick-off is scheduled for 3pm.