Ever since Roman Abramovich turned up with his billions to even up the playing field in 2004, games between Manchester Inited and Chelsea have taken on an added significance. of course other clubs have interjected occasionally, and now Manchester City threaten to muscle their way into the party, but for many, games between the Reds and the Blues remain the prime fixture of the season, and Sunday's clash promises to be no different.
In contrasting ways, it's been a season of change for both clubs. Whilst United have sought to cast away the past and embrace a new era, Chelsea have looked to an old hero to reinvigorate the club and return it to its glory days. Sunday will see who has got it right.
For Manchester United, the season to date has been a trial. losing their talismanic manager was always going to be a testing time, but seeing their club flirt with mid-table mediocracy is not an acceptable outcome for most Reds' fans. That said, a win over Chelsea could be just the catalyst needed to kickstart the David Moyes era. And, of course, if that puts Manchester United there, or thereabouts in a title chase, it would be a brave man who backs against them.
From a Chelsea perspective, it could hardly be a better time to face their old foes. Mourinho's team is now taking on the old mantle of his side from a few years ago. Dogged and selfish in defence, and although lacking the potency upfront of the Drogba era, the creative trio playing behind the front man is now starting to gel into an effective unit. Willian is looking like a player ideally suited to Premier League football with his high work rate and refined skills. Oscar's ability on the ball to create openings is only matched by his tenacity to win back the ball when the Blues surrender possession, and Hazard is back to looking like the outstanding talent of 12 months ago.
Games between these two clubs tend to be tight affairs, and are seldom won comfortably. i expect the game on Sunday to follow this pattern. united will be without van Persie, and possibly shorn of Rooney too they will however present a formidable barrier to Chelsea's progress. For the Blues, they will have Matic available, although he may start on the bench.
The winners of this game will not decide the title, but the losers may well be left to contemplate how badly a defeat in a single game can compromise a season. logic suggests a Chelsea win by a couple of goals, but logic is not always a sound guide. This will be a close game, decided in the smallest of margins. I just have a feeling that it could be a game where Torres could be a hero. I'm going for a Chelsea win by the odd goal in three. Don't be surprised however if United use this game as a springboard to relaunch their season. It could be that close.
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