Manchester United vs. Chelsea
Date: Monday, Aug. 26
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester
Kickoff: 8 p.m. (BST), 3 p.m. (ET), noon (PT)
Welcome to your new home, David Moyes.
The Scotsman will make his formal bow at Old Trafford by facing one of the toughest possible tests: the visit of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
Mourinho, of course, is no stranger to such baptisms of fire—nine years ago the Portuguese made his Premier League debut by hosting United (not the reigning champions then, as they are now) at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho saw his side win 1-0 thanks to Eidur Gudjohnsen, as the Blues would go on to bring the title back to West London in his first season at the club.
For Moyes, the task is similar. He must retain the title. United started well in that pursuit, winning comfortably in an away match against Swansea that many observers expected to be much closer, but Chelsea may provide a more accurate yardstick of this United team and how Moyes will preside over it.
Both sides have enjoyed perfect starts to the new season, with Chelsea having played a game more (beating Hull City and then Aston Villa) to create space in the calendar for their upcoming European Super Cup adventure.
It can be difficult to gauge how that extra game will affect a team—Chelsea players may feel more tired and less prepared (having had just four full days to focus on United); however, so early in the campaign, perhaps Mourinho’s squad have actually improved their match fitness thanks to that second competitive 90 minutes.
One player unlikely to be involved—from the start at least—is Wayne Rooney. The United striker has found himself at the heart of one of the summer’s more draining transfer sagas and may step even more prominently into the spotlight once Gareth Bale’s move to Real Madrid, as rumored to be taking place this weekend by John Percy of the Telegraph, is done and dusted (Luis Suarez may yet have something to say about that, though).
Chelsea have been Rooney’s strongest suitors this summer, with two bids rejected. Mourinho has indicated the club will make a third approach but not until after the two teams meet at Old Trafford—cleverly positioning himself as a man of integrity in negotiations while simultaneously making it very difficult for Moyes to play Rooney in the game.
"I'm happy with my squad, but every one of us managers, we say we are happy, but we are always unhappy," Mourinho added at a press conference on Friday.
"We always want something of more quality and we never close the door to the possibility of adding more quality."
Moyes has consistently denied United well sell Rooney, however, adding the same day: "We've told you, haven't we? I hardly need to repeat it again. It doesn't need to be said."
Not that leaving Rooney on the bench will greatly affect United’s chances of victory. As he showed against Swansea, Robin van Persie is more than capable of changing the course of a contest on his own and will likely be the focus of Chelsea’s defensive attentions.
The Blues, meanwhile, can threaten from a number of avenues—although it is perhaps ironic that their long-term question mark remains over the centre forward position.
What Mourinho would give for van Persie, never mind Rooney.
The two sides have played out a number of classic encounters in recent times—5-4 cup ties, 2-3 league meetings—and have proven well-matched opponents.
Facing off this early in the season, with Mourinho and Moyes both looking to establish themselves in new jobs, adds an extra spice to matters. It is a chance for the two managers, and the two teams, to set the tone for the campaign.
Ashley Young, Javier Hernandez and Nani remain midterm injury concerns for Moyes and United, with Nick Powell (who was unlikely to feature anyway) ruled out with a leg injury.
Moyes has concerns over Jonny Evans, who is struggling with illness, and will continue to have headaches over Rooney—who has a calf problem that may or may not rule him out from facing the side that covets him most.
Chelsea, on the other hand, are only worrying about David Luiz—the former Barcelona target still recovering from a hamstring injury that has kept him out of the first two games of the season. His return for this match is considered touch-and-go.
Impending signing Willian is also unlikely to be available, as his deal, as reported by BBC Sport, will almost certainly not be completed in time for him to be registered with the Premier League for this contest.
- Chelsea could become the first Premier League side to win twice at Old Trafford in the same calendar year, having beaten them 1-0 (in something of a dead rubber) in May.
- Manchester United have lost more Premier League encounters to Chelsea (14), than any other side.
- Jose Mourinho has lost just twice in seven competitive games at Old Trafford, with three wins.
- That's actually a better record than Moyes, who lost eight times (and never won) in 11 visits to Old Trafford as Everton manager.
- Robin van Persie has scored nine goals in his last eight league games—but Juan Mata has scored in the last three meetings between these teams.
(Statistics via Opta)
How They Might Line Up
It is always hard to predict how managers like Moyes and Mourinho will see this contest tactically, and what late injuries may befall each side, but here’s how the two sides could look:
Manchester United: De Gea; Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic, Jones; Giggs, Carrick, Cleverley, Kagawa, Valencia, Van Persie.
Chelsea: Cech; Cole, Cahill, Terry, Ivanovic; Ramires, Lampard; Hazard, Oscar, Schurrle; Torres.
Chelsea have tended to have the upper hand over Manchester United in recent times, although such games have tended to come with United enjoying a healthy advantage in the relevant standings.
Mourinho will be eager for his young side to make a real statement of intent in this one and take advantage of any lingering instability there may be at Old Trafford (either because of the Rooney situation or from the Sir Alex Ferguson-to-Moyes transition).
United, however, have an in-form Robin van Persie to turn to. The Dutchman is almost certain to have something to say in this contest, but we think Chelsea—inspired by Mourinho—have what it takes to come away with at least a point in this one.