A square-off between the mentor and his protege occurs at Old Trafford on Sunday (Noon ET on free-to-air NBC in the United States) when Manchester United host Chelsea.
In the past decade, these two teams have competed with one another for the Premier League title on multiple occasions, from the start of Jose Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea to Carlo Ancelotti’s two seasons at the club. Leading up to last season, Manchester United had become favorites in the match-up, as they won the title in the 10/11 and 12/13 seasons, while Chelsea won their last league title in 2010. However, the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson saw a decline in the power of Manchester United, and with the subsequent return of Mourinho, Chelsea are the favorites going into the game following their unbeaten start to the season.
Last season, these two teams played out a rather boring 0-0 draw. Jose Mourinho seemed satisfied with the point and for David Moyes, it was a decent result in a difficult period of games to start his tenure at the club. On that night, Mourinho raised some eyebrows by playing Andre Schurrle as the “False 9”, dropping Fernando Torres to the bench. Schurrle, like many of his teammates, failed to perform on the night. Despite this, an interesting match should result this time around.
While Louis van Gaal’s side have not made a great start to the season, he tries to deliver attacking football. Mourinho will definitely not try to “park the bus”as he did last season. Seeing Manchester United’s high-line against West Brom, it would not be surprising to see Mourinho tell his side to play effectively on the counter-attack. Manchester United will be happy to keep possession, while Chelsea are able to play in a multitude of ways. They won’t play as defensively as they did at City, as they will be chasing three points against a United side still attempting to reach its potential.
Luckily for United, they are facing Chelsea at a time where the club has been struck by injuries. Chelsea, usually fantastic at keeping players injury-free, have suffered from injuries to Diego Costa, John Obi Mikel, Ramires, and Andre Schurrle in recent weeks. Mourinho has hinted at the return of Costa and Mikel, while Schurrle will be back. However, Cesar Azpilicueta’s suspension and Loic Remy’s groin injury in midweek has resulted in the depth of Mourinho’s squad being tested. Filipe Luis should make his first Premier League start at left-back in the absence of Azpilicueta, while Didier Drogba could get the nod up front ahead of Schurrle if Costa is unfit. Willian, usually chosen for the big games due to his fantastic work-rate, in all likelihood, will start on the right.
Manchester United will be happy that Angel di Maria will be fit for the game, despite being taken off against West Brom. Michael Carrick will be returning from injury. Antonio Valencia and Paddy McNair, however, will miss the game due to hamstring injuries, while Jonny Evans is also out. Wayne Rooney finishes his three-game suspension following his red card against West Ham United.
Form-wise, Chelsea are topping the league by 5 points eight games into the season. They are carrying a record of 7 wins and 1 draw so far this season. United’s season started with a host of injuries, while late signings in the transfer window have also disrupted the settling of players. Van Gaal’s attempt to play three at the back has already been repealed, as they have have won only 3 out of their opening eight fixtures. Historically, van Gaal’s sides start out seasons poorly and usually get into form during October-November, as shown by his double-winning season at Bayern Munich in the 2009-2010 season, where his side also reached the Champions League Final, coincidentally losing to Mourinho’s Inter Milan side.
Manchester United (4-3-1-2) De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Rojo, Shaw, Herrera, Blind, Di Maria, Mata, Falcao, Van Persie.
Who to look out for: Di Maria; He has made a seamless transition into the Premier League, using his direct running at pace in midfield to lead Manchester United. Has scored 3 goals in 5 Premier League games, and is already looking like one of the signings of the season.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Luis, Matic, Fabregas, Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Drogba.
Who to look out for: Eden Hazard; In truth, many players could have been chosen for Chelsea. Oscar is the first line of true defense, while both Matic and Fabregas are key for the team. If Diego Costa is unfit, however, Hazard might have to step up and produce for Chelsea. He carried the team at times last season, and after a superb performance against Maribor in the Champions League, the stage is set for Hazard to showcase his talents at Old Trafford.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-3 Chelsea
Chelsea’s defense has not been at its best this season, partly due to more focus on attacking play. With Di Maria in form and quality up front in the likes of Falcao and Mata, it wouldn’t be surprising to see United score. Chelsea should be able to win though. Despite injuries to strikers, they still have enough quality to score on a United defense which has looked poor so far this season. If Diego Costa is fit, Chelsea could find themselves continuing their good start to the season.
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