Chelsea vs. Manchester United: 5 Moves Roberto Di Matteo Should Make
The Premier League's two most successful teams over the past decade meet for the first time this season on Sunday.
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo may have won the Champions League last season, but he is still yet to get the better of United boss Alex Ferguson in four previous encounters against him in the dugout while he was in charge of West Bromwich Albion. He is yet to face him as boss of the Blues.
Here are five ways in which the Italian coach can get his team three points against the Red Devils.
Pack the Midfield
Chelsea have found great success this season this season utilising a 4-2-3-1 formation, playing with the fluid attacking style which Andre Villas-Boas tried to to implement during his ill-fated tenure last season.
United's dire lack of a holding midfield player this year has been truly shown up with the return of Darren Fletcher.
With the Scotsman now back in the fold for United, it is now even more important that John Obi Mikel and Ramires form a solid base in the centre of the pitch and that one of Chelsea's attacking midfield triumvirate is always available and willing to drop back and add an extra body in that area.
Expose Patrice Evra
United left-back Evra—who wears the captain's armband in the continued absence of Nemanja Vidic—has been an inconsistent performer for United in recent times. All too often, the France international has been found wanting when facing wingers with pace and trickery.
Between them, Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard have caused many defenders all manner of problems this season as they take it in turns to probe and pass their way through back lines to lethal effect.
If Chelsea can get any of those players one-on-one with Evra—aided by the support of marauding right-back Branislav Ivanovic—then they will fancy their chances of getting the ball into dangerous areas in the box from that flank.
Rotate Mata, Hazard, Oscar
The aforementioned trio of Mata, Hazard and Oscar have shown more than enough promise that they can become one of the most enviable attacking units in Europe this season.
Between them, Mata and Hazard have scored five goals and set up another 10 in the Premier League already this season. Oscar have not registered in either category, but his late arrival means he is still in his initial settling period.
Defenders find it difficult enough to defend against the trio as they drop deep to drag their markers out of position, and they often switch positions to further pull defences apart. A regular rotation on Sunday will certainly help them find gaps in a United defence which is set to include Rio Ferdinand, who was rested during the week.
Don't Get Fixated with Torres Getting a Goal
Four goals from eight Premier League games this season has taken a lot of the focus off of Fernando Torres, but his best scoring streak as a Chelsea player has served to obscure the great contribution he has been making elsewhere this season.
The Spain striker has made the transition from playing on the shoulder of the last defender to operating as a target man very well this term. His work with his back to goal and in wide positions has been very effective at times, and he has movement and hold-up play that has enabled the attacking players behind him to get amongst the goals.
Torres appears to be thriving now that his teammates are not so obsessed with trying to tee him up at every opportunity. If they do the same again on Sunday, trusting him to support them as much as they support him, then Chelsea will get the best out of him against United.
Ensure There Are No External Distractions
Barely a weekend goes by in the Premier League goes by these days without pre-match rituals dominating the agenda somewhere or another, and so it could prove again in this game on Sunday.
Chelsea captain John Terry may be suspended for this game as part of his four-match ban imposed by the FA after they found him guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, but the QPR defender's brother Rio will be facing off against Ashley Cole, who gave evidence as part of Terry's defence in both the court case and the FA hearing.
Whether or not Rio Ferdinand and Cole shake each other's hands before the game will be a talking point, but Di Matteo must ensure that the left-back and his other players are not distracted by such trifling matters.