Youngster Anthony Martial will be key down the left hand side for Manchester United
Over the past decade, both sets of fans would have seen this clash as an opportunity to take advantage in the title challenge. These days, Manchester United fans are struggling to see a team that resembles anything put on show in the Sir Alex Ferguson era, whilst Chelsea fans have witnessed what only can be described as a worst title defence in the modern era only comparable to Chris Froome opting to compete in the 2016 Tour de France on a unicycle.
United were much improved against Stoke City in the 3-0 victory last Tuesday, with Anthony Martial terrorising Philipp Wollscheid who was replaced by Phil Bardsley – who was equalled tormented. Martial holds the key for United down that left hand side and will be urged to take on Branislav Ivanovic as much as possible. The in form Wayne Rooney, who was criticised by Louis van Gaal for suggesting that United were allowed to play with more freedom, will be looking to close in on Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring record for the club and a first victory at Stamford Bridge since the ill-fated 3-2 victory back in 2012/13.
The BBC reported on Saturday that United are holding talks with Jose Mourinho in an apparent bid to bring the Portuguese in at the end of the season. These reports have been dismissed, as expected, by Louis van Gaal – who can silence his critics with a good performance and a win against the current league champions.
We caught up with our regular Chelsea contributor Joe Tweeds, who blogs over at Plains of Almeria on the game and asked him a few questions on progress and what to expect for the remainder of the season. We discussed the impending departure of John Terry, possible replacements for caretaker Guus Hiddink and what new signing Alexandre Pato will have at Stamford Bridge. You can follow Joe on Twitter @joetweedie.
1) So, what are your thoughts on Pep Guardiola heading to Chelsea? Were Chelsea ever in for him?
After 2009/10 someone at Chelsea saw Carlo Ancelotti’s beautiful football team and thought they could reinvent the wheel. We departed from a ‘powerball’ style imbued by the likes of Essien, Ballack and Drogba, to a style that featured diminutive playmakers. We always hear the term “Barcelona in blue” and the appointment of André Villas-Boas would suggest that there was a real shift in philosophy. The style of player bought and team were almost teed up for Pep Guardiola. Ironically Chelsea’s successes post-Ancelotti have come by playing resolute and defensive football (European Cup 2012 and Europa League 2013). Even Mourinho’s league title was sealed under the guise of Mourinho pulling the shutters up.
I would imagine unequivocally that Chelsea wanted Guardiola, but where would you go? Chelsea’s squad is a mess – a hodgepodge of styles that are no longer suited to a system. The form of apparent key players has dropped off a cliff. The work required in the summer is massive and without European football will be tough. Given the calibre of player signed in the summer the challenge would have been monumental. I can see why Guardiola chose Manchester City – without say it is an easier job, it most certainly is.
2) Who can you see replacing Guus Hiddink? Would you welcome Glenn Hoddle’s recommendation of Ronald Koeman?
I think someone like Antonio Conte would be a particularly good shout. A strong personality who is incredibly flexible tactically. I love how he rebuilt Juventus and I think largely that sort of job and nous is what is required at Stamford Bridge in the summer. Part of me is crying out for the death of this 4-2-3-1 nonsense. Anything different, please. Conte is seemingly linked quite strongly now and I think he suits club management. Koeman is an interesting shout but I think we are maybe a year or two away from having him here. I still would not be totally averse to Hiddink staying one more season and transitioning to someone like Koeman afterwards.
3) Were you surprised at Ramires moving to Chinese side Jiangsu Suning in the transfer window? What do you make of the money being branded around in the Super League?
I was surprised he moved to China, but maybe not surprised he was sold. He had not played under Hiddink and while capable of the sublime he is at best an erratic presence on the ball. Probably the only Chelsea player capable of putting their foot in, which is sorely lacking right now. We will always have the Camp Nou. The whole push to China has been a bit crazy – the fee for Jackson Martinez probably the ultimate “you what?” moment. It seems like there is a serious amount of money being pumped into the league so I can only continue to see a lot of decent players moving out there.
4) Have you turned a corner following the 1-0 victory over Arsenal recently? What is the highest you feel the club can finish this season?
Writing this after the Watford result my opinion has been that no corner has turned. The same players who were performing poorly under Mourinho are still underwhelming and inconsistent. Last year actually looks like a miracle given the drop in form for most of this squad over the course of the season. In terms of where we finish I think we need a break from European football as we reorganise. As long as we don’t get relegated and oddly I still feel uneasy about where we are, I don’t really care. I can see a huge amount of changes being made in the summer, so it will almost have no bearing at all.
5) John Terry recently announced he will be leaving Chelsea at the end of the season. Is it the right time or could he still do another year? How does he compare to the top centre halves in Europe over the past 25 years?
It is all relative I guess. If we were a team progressing in the right way you would suggest Terry is an able deputy, but should not be starting. However, even at 35 and incapable of running he is a better defender than Gary Cahill and still leads Kurt Zouma well when partnered with him. He should do another season purely on the fact that he is our best centre half. Chelsea fans philosophise about this grand push to using a high defensive line – but what for? We need to spend about £80m on centre backs for a reality and the last two we bought were Papy Djiliwhatshisface and Michael Hector. Who? Exactly.
I think you would be hard pressed to find a centre half as good as Terry over the past twenty-five years. Putting any controversies to the side when you have people like Ronaldinho, David Villa, Thierry Henry etc. state you are the best/one of the best they’ve played against you should take note. His partnership with William Gallas was the best ever statistically in a Premier League season and probably the best in Premier League history. Sorry United fans, but you cannot argue with their record. Underrated in England, Terry is one of the most technically gifted centre backs I’ve seen. Pinging forty yard passes off either foot, this reputation as a kick it/head it player is a myth perpetuated by people who just don’t like him. A world class captain, centre back and player.
6) Manchester United looked like the team of old, with a free flowing attacking brand of football against Stoke City. Can Louis van Gaal get it right at United? Will United win a trophy under the Dutchman?
The goal that Martial scored would not have looked out of place in any United side over the past twenty years. Flowing stuff from front to back and a rather insane finish. I get that this possession based style is de rigueur, but United are always a side who have played a swashbuckling style of football. I think I have commented many times that United are probably one of a very small group of clubs who have a definitive personality that you associate with them. If Barcelona are renowned for tiki-taka, then United were known for all out attacking football. It could be that van Gaal has stumbled across a system and style that actually suits his squad. Amazing that it has taken him this long, but then he is by all accounts a bit set in his ways. Quite typical that United actually look like United the week before we play them. Can he win a trophy at United? I think so – just which one, I’m not sure.
7) Jose Mourinho appears to be the forgotten man following his departure at Chelsea. Where do you think he’ll end up and can you ever see him in the United dugout?
I think a lot will depend on how van Gaal finishes the season at United. Who better to combat the glamour of Guardiola than the dark arts of Mourinho? Think about the build up to the first derby…
Mourinho would absolutely bring success to United. Given the pull of the club anyway, Mourinho still can draw players in despite his final season at Chelsea being less than memorable. Would United fans put up with his antics? Sir Alex was hardly a saint so I cannot see this really being an issue. However, the negative tactics and toxic environment that he cultivated towards the end at Chelsea was painful to watch. Equally, you can probably wave goodbye to your academy. Despite Chelsea having the best Academy in Europe (at least in terms of results at youth team level) not a single player looked to be anywhere near the first team. This despite multiple first team players either a) downing tools or b) just being awful.
8) Anthony Martial has been the shining light in a United side that has been missing a star over the past two months. How good do you think he can become and are you surprised with how good he is?
I think when you pay the sort of money for someone that has been mentioned for Martial, you are expecting something a bit better than a Berahino type to turn up. He looks hand crafted for Premier League football in a way not many youngsters are these days. Powerful, plenty of pace, trickery and an eye for goal – he really is beginning to look the part. The wing role is suiting him and he beats people for fun cutting in on his right foot. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Ivanović attempts to handle him on Sunday (he lies). Genuinely think that he has world class potential – but finding a settled position will be key to realising that. I’d take him at Chelsea tomorrow.
9) With the summer transfer window coming – what do Chelsea need to do to challenge for the title again? Who will be coming in and who will be going out?
I could write 2,000 words on this (and I might already have done somewhere). Finding the right manager is key and we cannot afford to make a mistake here. The Premier League is like an arms race now and if you blink you are irrelevant. We really are on the cusp of doing a Liverpool and fading into relative obscurity. I don’t think Hazard is going anywhere unless someone bids silly money for him. If it was up to me there would be wholesale changes. I can’t stand the direction that the squad has been heading and would try to bring back some technical powerhouses where possible. Watching the likes of Pedro get taken out by a gust of wind and Fàbregas play entire matches without winning a single tackle is galling. The less said about Nemanja Matić’s decline the better.
10) Alexandre Pato was once labelled one of the hottest properties in world football, but ran out of steam at AC Milan – despite a decent goal scoring record. What will he bring to this Chelsea side and will he sign permanently?
Considering he isn’t even fit yet I’m not even sure when we’ll see him. Seems to be saying and doing all the right things, but signing someone who can’t even play probably until the end of February beginning of March. Has barely scored when playing as a striker, but seemingly looked sharp (can you look sharp in Brazil) playing as an inside forward type. Genuinely have no idea. One of those “educated punts” that typically looks stupid when he scores once and makes a handful of appearances. Would absolutely love to be proven wrong because his attitude is fantastic, but I can’t see him being the answer to any of our problems.