Chelsea vs. Manchester United view from the oppo

Manchester United lost 3-1 at Chelsea last season with Samuel Eto’o scoring all three

Manchester United travel to league leaders Chelsea this evening knowing that they must not leave without three points to stand any potential chance of lifting the title, which of course would need to coincide with a monumental collapse by the Londoners. United are in great form and have picked up nine points in the games against Tottenham, Liverpool and most recently in the 4-2 victory over Manchester City.

The absence of Michael Carrick through injury is a massive blow to United who was instrumental in the victory last Sunday, getting on the ball and dominating the physically superior Yaya Toure. Phil Jones is also missing from the match day squad. Although Chelsea still have a game in hand, United will close the gap to five points with a victory at Stamford Bridge.

We have a great view from the opposition from Joe Tweeds who blogs over at Plains of Almeria. We discussed Eden Hazard for player of the year, the class of Juan Mata and whether or not Jose Mourinho actually cried when he found out David Moyes got the United job ahead of him! You can follow Joe on Twitter @plainsofalmeria

1) So how would you sum up your season so far? Have you found it a walk in the park?
It has been incredibly successful, but it still feels slightly underwhelming in parts. Obviously if we go on to secure the Premier League title I will be delighted. Nevertheless, the loss to Bradford in the FA Cup was terrible and losing to Paris Saint-Germain was bitterly disappointing. The nature of those losses still sting now. I cannot recall a more gutless display from Chelsea than the one against PSG. No fight or desire in probably our biggest game of the season at that point.

In truth 2015 has been something of a struggle, albeit not entirely reflected in our results. Oscar’s tail off led to our midfield looking stagnant. Fabregas, who enjoyed such a telepathic relationship with the Brazilian, soon dropped off. Nemanja Matic has looked tired after his injury a few weeks previously. Diego Costa at full capacity is a frightful proposition, but a mixture of injuries and suspensions has seen him merely simmer in 2015.

The real bright point has been Eden Hazard. For ages I have wanted him to assume the mantle as the player to drive Chelsea forward and he is almost singlehandedly pushing Chelsea over the line.

2) Was Mourinho lucky to get away with winning nothing last season and how have you found the second coming in comparison to the first?
I think the club have finally seen that stability at the club is a good thing. The direction we were heading in last season was promising, but clearly there were key pieces missing that were addressed swiftly in the summer. I think the second coming was always going to slightly underwhelm. We rarely see the swashbuckling substitutions or bold gambles that we saw in his first tenure. Whether this is because he does not fully trust his squad (something I personally feel is true) or his travels have taken a toll on him is unclear.

Undoubtedly he is a world class coach and manager – some of the antics are tiresome, particularly the dig at the supporters, but ultimately I would not swap him for any other manager in world football.

3) Chelsea were heavily criticised for their conduct during the home tie against PSG when Ibrahimovic was sent off. What was your take on it and your elimination from the Champions League?
I think the criticism was slightly ridiculous – the coverage intimated that Chelsea were the first person to surround a referee. If you watch the incident at full speed it looked a horrific challenge. I think given the fact Matic almost had his leg snapped in two by a Burnley player a week or so before that the players were sensitive to another tackle.

The elimination was gutless. I don’t recall Chelsea looking as clueless as they did once PSG went down to 10 men. I think 11 vs 11 would have done us a favour. Insipid, tired and strangely lacking in passion, PSG simply wanted it more and we let them have it. Very disappointing.

4) What do you make of David De Gea and the suggestions he is the best in Europe? Will he stay at United or head to Madrid?
I think he’s an exceptional goalkeeper, but I’m certain he’d probably be in our U21s! Wonderful shot stopper, clearly progressed since his first season and looks every inch a top Premier League goalkeeper. I don’t know why he’d leave United for Real considering he’s been at Atlético previously. If they do buy him they’ll have to pay through the nose.

5) What have you made of United’s form over the past month or so? Any bit nervous about a late Fergie-style comeback?
It’s definitely been surprising – definitely more like “the United of old”. However, I think the changes that have instigated it would have been hammered under Moyes. The use of Fellaini, albeit exactly how he should be used, is a bit agricultural to put it politely. Having grown up watching United playing one of the most distinctive styles of football going it feels a bit odd that a turnaround has come from something quite draconian.

I would be surprised if we threw it away now – we’re only really looking for draws against yourselves and Arsenal and I think it’s done. 7 points is a lot to make up, particularly when we still have another game in hand. Given that we never do things easy I doubt it plays out as straightforward as that. You are definitely playing better than us at present, but we have a knack to get the results we need. It’s going to be close, but I hope not too close!

6) How will Antonio Valencia fare against Eden Hazard and will the Belgian win player of the season?
It’s going to be an interesting matchup because of how well Valencia has done playing right back of late. Saying that Eden Hazard is the best player in the league and unplayable in 1-on-1 situations. Hazard makes great players look ordinary and I’m not sure Valencia is a great fullback. If he doesn’t win the Player of the Year award it will be odd, but definitely not surprising. The last time we won the league Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard had probably their best ever seasons yet Wayne Rooney won the award. So it won’t be a surprise if someone like Harry Kane wins it, despite playing barely half a season.

7) Juan Mata has been in brilliant form lately. Concerned he will do damage on Saturday? What do you make of him on the right for United?
Still one of the classiest players to put on a Chelsea shirt – both on and off the pitch. Not remotely surprised that he has started to play well, it was only a matter of time. I’m not concerned that he’ll do damage on Saturday as Rooney seems to score almost every time he plays against us. He’s going to be a huge threat, of course.

8) Who are the three stand out players for you this season and why?
Eden Hazard is the first by a significant margin – he might well be the best player I’ve ever seen at Chelsea. Cesar Azpilicueta is probably the best defensive fullback in the Premier League – he basically locks down the entire left hand side for Chelsea. John Terry – no one outside of Chelsea likes him, but he has been in stunning form this season.

9) How do you think United will perform in the league next season and is Louis van Gaal the right man to lead United forward?
I think if you have a slightly more coherent strategy in the transfer window and make some decent signings you’ll be in contention to win the title. I am still personally undecided on LvG – if he settles on a shape and system I think he’ll do well, but I can’t overlook the continual switching of formation early in the season that seemed to confuse everyone.

10) What do you make of the suggestion that Jose Mourinho “cried” when he found out he didn’t get the United job over David Moyes!? Any truth in that do you think?!
Probably cried with laughter? I think this is one of those things that United fans clearly want to be true, but probably isn’t. Mourinho had already laid the foundations to return to London with his family well before any discussion would likely have happened. A lot of anecdotal bits suggest Mourinho had agreed to join Chelsea months before anything leaked to the press. Saying that, I would loved to have been in the room when someone legitimately said they wanted Moyes over Mourinho

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