Chelsea vs. Manchester United match preview & view from oppo

Manchester United take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge
Danny Welbeck takes on Oscar as Manchester United look to close the gap on Chelsea

Manchester United travel to Stamford Bridge in what will be the 170th clash between the two sides, as David Moyes’ men look to close the nine point gap between the two sides. United hosted Chelsea in Moyes’ first home game in charge, which ended in a dire 0-0 draw. The visitors are without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in attack, who were both ruled out on Friday whilst Jose Mourinho has stated that new signed Nemanja Matic will not start the game.

Mourinho’s last game in charge of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge against United ended in a 0-0 draw in May 2007, when United had already wrapped up the league title a week earlier. Chelsea went onto beat United 1-0 in the FA Cup final, with Didier Drogba scoring the winner after an extremely poor final performance from both sides. This was the last trophy won in England by the Portuguese and a win over United will no doubt keep the pace with leaders Arsenal and Manchester City, but it is a must win game Manchester United.

We have a great view from the opposition, one of the best in my opinion, from Joe Tweeds who blogs over at Plains of Almeria. We discussed whether or not Mata would leave Chelsea, Mourinho mellowing and ho resembles a stockier Ronaldo?! You can follow Joe on Twitter @JoeTweeds.

1) How would sum up your season far and do you think you’ll win the league?
It has been a season of real transition at the club. Spending a small fortune in the summer seemed slightly ill advised given how unbalanced the squad looked for the early part of the season. We had Oscar, Hazard, Mata, Moses and De Bruyne on the books when we signed Willian and Schürrle. Many fans argued that spending £50m on a striker would have been far more useful. Oh ye of little faith. Winning ugly might not be for everyone, but it is a testament to Mourinho’s quality that he kept Chelsea in the title race while finding his best team.

I think we have shown a lot of promise this season and I am happy with the direction Mourinho is taking the club. A high pressing game that has restored power to the side has seen the club string together some of its best performances in years. We have finished nowhere in the league for the past two seasons so instantly correcting everything overnight was unlikely. Nevertheless, Mourinho could sneak a league title in his first season if we remain consistent.

2) Has Mourinho changed much since his first stint? Any noticeable differences?
He has naturally matured to some extent but there is still the same mischief and fire in him that I honestly would never like to see fade. The shape of the team has changed, partially dictated by the squad but also by a shift in philosophy from Mourinho himself. He seems a lot more relaxed around the training pitch — Chelsea TV does have some uses — and his demeanour around the club exudes someone confident in his long-term project.

Courtois, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Mikel, Ramires, Matic, Mata, Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Schürrle and Lukaku are all currently under 26. With the potential of adding someone like Shaw and Zouma in the summer you can see why Mourinho is keen to reiterate his long-term plans here.

3) You’ve just signed Matic for £21m despite letting him leave as part of a cash swap deal for David Luiz. How do you feel about the signing?
Without getting too Arsenal about the subject matter, financially the impact is quite minimal. The £21m gets amortised over the course of his 5 1/2 year contract, so it only accounts for ~£4m on the balance sheet each year (it’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the gist). De Bruyne’s likely sale for £17m-18m is an “instant” profit and immediately takes care of the transfer allocation for this seasons books. Okay. I lied. That was quite an Arsenal answer, but hey, I work in the City.

That aside it’s both a great signing and slightly disappointing. Matic is one of Europe’s elite central midfielders. Had he not played for the club previously there would be a lot more made about getting someone so good for so little. Many Portuguese football experts are still perplexed as to how we managed to buy him for £21m when his buyout clause was over double that. He addresses a significant area of weakness in the squad with the exact quality that we have missed for some time.

The disappointing aspect comes from the fact we needed to sell him and let him develop for over two years before considering him ready for the first team. There is no exact science to player development but I have always admired United’s policy of letting even average players have a season in and around the first team. Chelsea seem to be waiting for an academy product/young player to be of the level of a 28yr old international before letting them play. It makes no sense.

4) The 0-0 draw in August was pretty dire, Chelsea will surely be a little more open on Sunday?
It was one of those results in hindsight that you think we probably could have gone for the jugular. I never envisaged Moyes struggling as badly as he is given what Ferguson achieved with essentially the same group of players. It really highlights how Ferguson was able to extract every ounce of ability and effort from his team, something Moyes has struggled to replicate.

Taking a point at the Champions is something I certainly would have been happy with before the game started. It is also fair to point out that our own form has only recently started to build momentum. Attacking in August would probably not yield the same results as it might do if we were playing away this Sunday.

I have a feeling that United will step things up drastically against us this weekend. With that in mind I think Mourinho will look to adopt his high-pressing game that overwhelmed Liverpool. Without Van Persie/Rooney there is an element of me saying we should be controlled and let our quality show, but we have looked sublime when this high energy tempo has been set. I am hopeful that Mourinho goes to win the game – we have the ability and the momentum to approach the game positively.

5) Do you think you’ll sign anyone else in the January transfer window? Do you need to strengthen and can you see anyone leaving? Juan Mata?
I cannot see Mata going anywhere at the moment. Who has £50m to spend on him? That was reportedly the level of figure that has been quoted to the likes of PSG and Bayern Munich. Ryan Bertrand has just gone on loan to Aston Villa and with Michael Essien’s departure appearing imminent we will have a few holes at full-back.

Luke Shaw, a Chelsea fan, seems the obvious choice but he might be someone who is pursued heavily in the summer. A left hand side of Shaw and Hazard would be up there with anything in Europe and it would be great to have a Chelsea kid in the team. I think other areas of need (centre back and centre forward) are more than likely going to be addressed this summer. Could we do with either? Yes. I just do not see it likely at this point in time.

6) What have you made of United this season and is Moyes right for the job?
It was always going to be a tough task replacing Ferguson. Should Moyes be doing better than he is? Certainly. Is he right for the job? Certainly not. I cannot fathom why Manchester United would look for the most distinctly underwhelming and mediocre manager to replace Ferguson. That, in my opinion, is what Moyes represents. A manager with no attacking philosophy, something I would associate with United, and a manager with no pedigree of delivering trophies.

Klopp, Conte etc. were all big names capable of managing a club of United’s stature. If they really wanted to go for someone who was in the league then Martinez fit United’s philosophy perfectly.

Much is made by United fans about Mourinho wanting the job – I would love to have been in the meeting when that decision was made.

“Okay lads. We’ve got the manager who has won the lot or the manager who has won nothing but he is cheap?”

Things will turn themselves around at some point, but you have to question whether United make the top four this season. I still scratch my head as to how a side that has been blessed with so many wonderful players over the past 5-8 years has TC23 and Welbz playing regularly. Or even worse who actually sanctioned paying nearly £30m for Fellaini.

7) You have some great attacking talent but surely Hazard is the best of the bunch? Just how good can he become having watched him at close quarters?
He could become one of the best Chelsea players ever if the club can keep hold of him. Hazard has always been blessed with the ability to have moments of magic during games. His cameo in the FA Cup last year at Old Trafford was a small sample of his quality.

Strangely, given Mourinho’s apparent negativity, it is this season where he has found consistency. Mourinho’s work with him has transformed him as a player. His entire attitude has changed, he works extremely hard for the team but more importantly he is taking on the responsibility that Mourinho has put upon him to be our best player.

He is reminiscent (and I know this is probably blasphemy on this site) of a shorter, stockier Ronaldo. There is a long way to go before he hits the heights on Ronaldo but the signs are there for Hazard. If he continues to improve his goalscoring record and consistently overcomes being triple-teamed (Poyet admitted to him being unplayable even when they chose to triple mark him) then the sky really is the limit. Statistically his chances created and completed dribbles are ahead of anyone in the league – imagine when he has a striker ahead of him not named Torres?

Without question my current player of the season and I hope he remains here for a few more years.

8) What is your predicted lineup and score for Sunday?
Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Luiz/Mikel, Ramires; Hazard, Oscar, Willian; Eto’o.

A dull an uneventful 1-0 win please Chelsea.

9) Who has been your best and worst players so far this season?
Best player Hazard, closely followed by Oscar. Terry and Azpilicueta also both very good. Worst player, really down to attitude, has to be Kevin De Bruyne. I was delighted when he came back and hoped he would cement himself within the Chelsea first team. Mourinho’s disappointment in his work ethic was clear to see and he played himself out of a starting role to barely making the match day squad.

10) Give us a little known fact about Chelsea and if you had to pick one out of Zola, Terry and Drogba – who would you pick and why?
Chelsea are the only English team to have won the Super Cup, Cup Winners Cup, Europa League/UEFA Cup and European Cup. No history etc. Oh, and we probably would have had another European Cup in 1955/56 if the FA hadn’t blocked the team entering the competition.

My answer to the Zola/Terry/Drogba question changes every time I’m asked. Zola was my hero growing up and some of the stuff Ferguson said about him is superb. His favourite non-United player, I believe, Ferguson once said that he made Pallister slide so far past him with a turn once that Pallister needed to buy a ticket to get back into the ground. A cracking story from Ferguson.

With that being said I always plump for Drogba. He was far from perfect, like the club in many respects, but his ability to take his performances onto another level in big games was unparalleled. He seemed to score in every final, against every top opponent and the Munich penalty was quite simply the best way to bow out of the club. I find it odd how Arsenal fans idolise Henry when he couldn’t wait to leave the club and win trophies. With Drogba he only left after winning absolutely everything at the club. He has had his moments but the good times far outweigh the bad and for that he is probably my favourite Chelsea player ever.

Many thanks to Joe and also to who have put together this infographic statistical overview of clashes between Chelsea and Manchester United:

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