Chelsea travel to Old Trafford for their bank holiday Monday clash with Premier League Champions Manchester United. Jose Mourinho’s men have ground out two wins from two games to see them sitting at the top of the table. David Moyes will be faced with a dilemma over Wayne Rooney following the ongoing speculation over the England striker’s future, while Mourinho will be fully focused on picking the best team to get the job done.
Frank Lampard has started both of Chelsea’s matches so far this season. He played a key role in both games, scoring a beauty of a free kick against Hull City before setting up Ivanovic for the winner against Aston Villa. However, his age is catching up to him and he began to tire towards the end of the midweek match, making his inclusion at Old Trafford doubtful at best.
Michael Essien will be the most likely partner for Ramires in midfield. Although The Bison suffers from the same age-related issue as Super Frank, he will be well rested ahead of this game. He is also more focused on the defensive side of the pivot role, leaving Ramires to use his pace and stamina to support the attack.
With David Luiz still not fully recovered from a hamstring injury, the back four will likely look the same. However, John Terry could sit out having played the full 90 minutes of both games so far. That would mean Branislav Ivanovic moving back to the centre-half position he occupied for much of last season, with Cesar Azpilicueta replacing him at right-back.
The attacking-midfield trio holds the toughest decision for Mourinho.
Eden Hazard and Oscar have been exceptional in the two games so far. Oscar in particular has blossomed under the new Mourinho system and should be among the first names on the team sheet.
Juan Mata was included in the starting XI in the match against Aston Villa after sitting out the opening game of the season due to a thigh injury. The 25-year-old celebrated the second anniversary of his signing for Chelsea this week, and rumours persist that he will be leaving Stamford Bridge despite vehement denials of such madness from Mourinho. His performance against Villa was nowhere near his best, and in such a crucial game it will be vital to ensure that he is fully fit if he is to start. If he is still lacking match fitness, there could be a full Premier League debut for Andre Schurrle. The all-round attacking threat has been limited to cameo appearances thus far, but his link-up play with Romelu Lukaku has been wonderful.
That brings us to the issue of the first-choice frontman.
Fernando Torres was given the nod against Hull, whilst Demba Ba started against Villa. Both were replaced in the closing stages by the 20-year-old Lukaku, who has made the case for his inclusion against United.
The last time Lukaku faced the Red Devils at Old Trafford was as a second-half substitute for West Bromwich Albion in Sir Alex Ferguson's final game in charge. Unfazed by the lack of minutes left on the clock, Lukaku scored a hat-trick to earn the Baggies a draw and spoil Fergie's party.
His size, speed and technical ability give him an edge over the competition that Mourinho would be foolish to ignore. With Petr Cech a certainty between the sticks, this is the most likely Blues XI to face United.
If that team plays to their potential, Moyes will have to beat Mourinho at his own tactical game to prevent the Theatre of Dreams hosting a scene from United's nightmares.