It may be early in the season, but when Chelsea faces Manchester United on Monday in the most anticipated game of the new season, there will already be Premier League title implications in a race that promises to be tight this year.
In some respects, United and Chelsea have had similar summers, switching managers to David Moyes and Jose Mourinho (the sequel), respectively.
In other respects, their summers have been quite different. Manchester United has yet to make one impact signing, while Chelsea have added Andre Schurrle, Marco van Ginkel and Willian—yes, the hijacking of the Tottenham target is all but complete—and brought back talented players on loan such as Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne.
Chelsea came into the season as many pundits' favorite to win the title, while United seemed an afterthought. But the reigning champs will hope to remind folks that they are not to be taken lightly in a key early season clash at Old Trafford.
When: Monday, August 26 at
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Watch: NBC Sports Network (U.S.); Sky Sports 1 (UK)
Streaming: NBC Sports Live Extra (U.S.); Sky Go
Chances: Manchester United at 45.2 percent, Chelsea at 32 percent and a draw at 22.8 percent, via Bloomberg Sports.
What They're Saying
The importance of this game isn't lost on anyone, including Chelsea midfielder Oscar, who feels it is a golden opportunity for the Blues to go six points up on their rivals.
From Chelsea's website:
If we win we can open up a gap of six points to Manchester United already, in addition to the fact they’re the champions and the importance a victory against them has.
We know it will be difficult but nevertheless we know we can win at Old Trafford. We did it last year and we’ll hope to accomplish the same this year. It’s obviously a very important match, and the first of two in succession with Manchester United and Bayern Munich, which are clearly big for us.
We are hopeful we can play well, it’s true it’s only the start of the championship but we can’t be complacent, this is such an important game and we’re sure if we put everything into practice all we are planning in training we can get the three points which will be great for us.
They are one of the best teams we will play against, one of our greatest rivals and undoubtedly come the end of the season they will be fighting for titles. For this reason we know we need to play well. It will be difficult for us but at the same time it will be difficult for them.
Manchester United Player to Watch: Wayne Rooney
Let's be honest—whether Rooney plays or not, whether he plays well or not, whether he celebrates or sulks or glances over at Mourinho, we're all going to overanalyze his every move.
Could this be his last game for United? Will he even play? Could he be off to Chelsea after this contest? Might Juan Mata move in the opposite direction after Willian's signing further crowds the Chelsea midfield?
Rooney remains the most intriguing storyline of United's season. Oh, and yeah, he's a pretty good player, too, and could have a major impact on this game. He may not eventually join Chelsea, but the tension in the air between the two sides given Mourinho's rather public pursuit of Rooney should be worth the price of admission alone.
Chelsea Player to Watch: Fernando Torres, Demba Ba or Romelu Lukaku
Rooney or a player like Samuel Eto'o may eventually join the Blues, but for now Chelsea has three striking options. Not surprisingly, Mourinho has already played all three of them, giving Torres and Ba a start each and using Lukaku as a substitute in both games.
Each bring something different to the table. Torres likes to make runs behind defenders and find empty space to occupy, while Ba is a traditional target and poacher. Lukaku's game is still evolving, but from a physical standpoint, he is the most impressive.
The majority of Chelsea's scoring this season will come from the world's deepest midfield, but the striker that can prove to be more steady in holding up play and providing a consistent stream of goals will win the competition for first-choice striker. A strong performance against United would go a long way.
Manchester United Wins If...
They can use the energy from the home crowd to get off to an early start and score a quick goal.
Robin van Persie continues his strong start.
An overmatched United midfield stifles the creative Chelsea attack and United wins the possession battle.
Chelsea Wins If...
Jose Mourinho finds the right midfield group out of the millions of permutations he now has at his disposal given Chelsea's obscene depth at the position. Seriously, if you doubt the depth of Chelsea's midfield, just take a look at this tweet from 101 Great Goals:
Chelsea's defense takes the sting out of United's attack and hits hard on the counterattack.
The Blues weather the United crowd and doesn't allow an early goal in either half.
One of the strikers steps up and scores.
Which team wins?
Underestimating Manchester United, despite a lack of summer signings, is not wise. Just ask Swansea City, a pretty good side that was crushed by the Red Devils, 4-1.
For all of Chelsea's depth, walking out of Old Trafford with a win is no easy feat. The Blues have as much talent on their roster as most teams in Europe, but United won't simply roll over.
This game ends in a draw, 2-2.