Manchester United vs. Chelsea preview & view from the oppo

david luiz rafael sending off
Manchester United take on Chelsea at Old Trafford in a must win game for the reds.

Manchester United welcome unbeaten Chelsea to Old Trafford and Louis van Gaal’s side need a win in order to close the gap at the top of the table. Both clubs will be looking to capitalise on Manchester City’s loss at West Ham United yesterday, however – Chelsea are sitting comfortably at the top of the table with 22 points, whilst United are in eight position with ten points less. Jose Mourinho has only lost once at Old Trafford, which came in the 2005/06 season following those disastrous matches against Middlesborough (the 4-1 defeat that promoted Roy Keane’s reaction in the now infamous MUTV interview) and in the Champions League against Lille (United were eliminated at the group stage). Darren Fletcher scored the winner that day and Louis van Gaal will hoping for more of the same come 4pm this afternoon.

United of course have looked very leaky in defence and the backline was all over the place for WBA’s second goal last Monday. There are doubts that joint Premier League top goalscorer Diego Costa will miss the fixture though illness, although Mourinho is confident that the Spanish striker will feature. United also have their striker concerns, with Wayne Rooney suspended and Falcao nursing an ankle injury – the Colombian is a doubt after picking up the injury in training on Friday.

We have a great view from the opposition from Joe Tweeds who blogs over at Plains of Almeria. We discussed the class of Hazard, what United player would get into the Chelsea side and his thoughts on Juan Mata. You can follow Joe on Twitter @JoeTweeds

1) What have you made of Jose Mourinho’s second season following his appointment from Real Madrid last summer? Did he get away with it a bit last season?

While it is incredibly early in the season, Mourinho seems to have really established how he wants his Chelsea side to play. A more expansive style, coupled with great defensive shape, is really getting the best out of the entire squad. He really does have two plan A’s – either an attacking side or a more solid one – with very little difference in quality. His comments about some managers being so wedded to the notion of having a philosophy, that they forget that football is about winning first and foremost are spot on. While this Chelsea side lacks the absolute killer instinct of his first stint at the club, it is something that is developing. The “football board” did a fantastic job providing the final jigsaw pieces early in the summer and Mourinho is maximising what he has at his disposal.

Given what Mourinho means to this club he was always going to be afforded some room to manoeuvre. However, last season was our first proper season of transition and a lot of what was trying to be bedded in then is coming to fruition now. Juxtapose the timeframe for Mourinho to evolve the squad/style with Wenger’s never ending period of transition and I think Mourinho has done it well. It might hint at a slightly longer term vision from the club also. Mourinho remains the first manager to not win a trophy and remain in charge for the following season. We did, ultimately, throw the title away last season. Nevertheless, I do feel this team is more mentally ready for that final stretch now.

2) Chelsea have been the team to beat so far this season – how confident are you that you will obtain all three points on Sunday?

I hate being confident going into any game, but the possible absences of Costa/Rémy have dampened my expectations somewhat. Drogba is still useful when closing out a game, but playing for 90 minutes at a level high enough to consistently trouble is unlikely. If Rémy or Costa start then I think we have every chance of winning the game. Mourinho is the best tactician in the league and obviously knows everything about LVG. I do think it will be a tough game, as it always is, but I hope rather than expect we can win.

3) Diego Costa, when fit, and Cesc Fabregas are two great signings and have hit the ground running since leaving La Liga. What does Costa bring that Fernando Torres was lacking and what are your thought on Arsene Wenger choosing not to re-sign Fabregas?

Costa has been a revelation since his arrival in the summer. I do not remember a player who has endeared himself to the fans as quickly as he has done. He is a feral and menacing forward, who is so much better than he appears. There is no comparison to Fernando Torres. Costa simply wants it more on the most basic of footballing levels. He chases down lost causes like he has a right to the ball that no one else has; where Torres was most likely to be seen doing his hair. Even if you take away Costa’s extremely economical way in front of goal, he simply terrifies defences. There were times last season where Torres would make a run and the back four would not even track him: that is how much of a threat he was. This season whenever Costa makes a move, someone goes with him. Hazard’s run and foul for the penalty against Arsenal was made possible by Costa dragging Mertesacker 15 yards from where he should have been.

Fàbregas is already doing an Ashley Cole. He came to the club having been the captain of Arsenal and a Barcelona player; neither club I hold much love for. Underappreciated in Spain and often played in random roles things never quite worked out for him. How thankful we now are. Probably blinded by my dislike of him and the clubs he has played for, it was easy to forget that when he left England he was probably the best midfielder in the country. Now Mourinho has tweaked things tactically, we are really beginning to see how good Fàbregas can be. He has a telepathic understanding with Costa and the way he rotates and links with Oscar and Hazard is bordering artistic. I would love to have been in the room when Arsenal decided they didn’t need to sign him because they had Mesut Ozil. An insane decision that we are currently benefiting from massively.

4) Many claim Eden Hazard is the third best player in the world – what do you make of that claim and has he had a slow start to the season?

I think Hazard puts himself just outside the top 5 or so elite players. For me that is an entirely fair reflection of where he currently stands – knocking on the Arjen Robben/Franck Ribery door, not quite near the Ronaldo/Messi one. He has been quite sensational since a public dressing down against Aston Villa and arguably playing his most consistent for the club. Judging him purely based on statistics may suggest a slow start, but he has terrorised defenders and become a constant menace this season. The goals and assists will come, but there is nothing better than seeing Eden Hazard 1-on-1 with a defender. It seems like he is now making that step-up that his extraordinary talent commands and Mourinho is turning him into a complete player. He has probably been influential or directly responsible for a lot of Chelsea’s excellent play of late.

5) Romelu Lukaku was suppose to be Didier Drogba’s replacement. What have you made of resigning Drogba and why did it not happen for Lukaku?

Lukaku’s biggest downfall is that he essentially wants things handed to him on a plate. There was never any fight in him to compete. Last season he had a completely horrific Fernando Torres, ageing Samuel Eto’o and perennial substitute Demba Ba to contend with. Instead of thinking “you know what, I’m better than all of these and I’m going to show it” he instead downed tools and asked to go on loan. Given Mourinho’s mentality that was never going to be something he would suffer. I haven’t given him a thought since we somehow managed to convince Everton he was worth £28m. We only paid £4m more for Costa.

6) What have you made of Manchester United so far this season and is Louis van Gaal the right man for the job?

A bit of a mixed bag. I suppose the Leicester game was almost a microcosm of the entire season in itself. Some wonderful attacking play, beautiful goals but haphazard defensively. Van Gaal is clearly a decent manager, but I do wonder about some of the signings made. I think there is possibly a long road back to reach the heights expected of United in the league. It has always been United +1 for the title picture, but that seems so far away not it is quite scary. Only time will tell with van Gaal, but there is clearly a chance to make the top four this season given the relative strength of those competing. I think he has to make it or he might be gone.

7) Juan Mata doesn’t look as comfortable in a United shirt as he did in a Chelsea shirt. Ten months on, what do you make of his transfer and can he become a big player for United?

I feel sorry for Mata. He went from being the focal point of Chelsea to being a peripheral player at United in a very short space of time. I do not thing, particularly with Rooney being captain, that Mata is going to be playing in his favoured number ten role too often. If that is the case he is ineffectual as a wide man and may well be sold this January. From our perspective it now looks to be superb business. Mata in essence paid for Matic and most of Fabregas, who are both crucial to Mourinho’s new system. The fact fewer sides are able to carry a mercurial number ten with little athletic capacity or defensive nous does not bode well for the Spaniard.

8) You must have been shocked when United signed Falcao – what have you made of United’s transfer dealings?

I thought Di Maria was a very good signing, even if the fee was inflated. Falcao was an odd one, because comparing your back four to your forwards is a little bewildering. How could anyone look at Smalling/Jones et al. and think spending huge money on more forwards was the correct way to go? Shaw seems to have spent all summer on the lash eating kebabs and I cannot believe how unfit he looks. For that sort of money you would be expecting to buy Dani Alves or Ashley Cole in their pomp. Not someone turning up to pre-season overweight with barely anything on their CV. Blind looks okay, but has looked exposed at time. I still feel United could have bought a better defender than Rojo as well.

9) If you could take one Manchester United player and drop him into Chelsea’s starting Xi, who would it be?

Di Maria, no questions about it. Stick him the other side of Costa and watch Hazard, Costa and Di Maria destroy people.

10) What is your all time Chelsea Xi and three subs?

Based on people I have seen since 1994 onwards…


Cech; Gallas, Carvalho, Terry, Cole; Essien; Di Matteo, Lampard; Zola; Drogba, Robben.

Subs: Hazard, Gullit and Hasselbaink

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