It doesn't get much better than a matchup between Chelsea and Manchester United, even if the defending champions haven't quite lived up to their lofty standards in the maiden voyage of David Moyes as manager.
The Blues come into this matchup trying to keep pace with Arsenal and Manchester City atop the Premier League table. Manchester United comes into this match trying to keep pace with teams fighting for European qualification spots like Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham.
Any way you slice it, this one is huge. Let's break it down.
When: Sunday, January 19 at 11 a.m. ET
Sunday, January 19 at 4 p.m. GMT
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England
Odds: Chelsea (47.9 percent), Manchester United (27.6 percent) and draw (24.5 percent), according to Bloomberg Sports
The biggest storyline coming into this game—outside of the huge league implications—was the status of Wayne Rooney. Unfortunately, United fans are left to be disappointed by the resolution of that storyline.
From Richard Jolly of ESPN:
Wayne Rooney has been ruled out of Manchester United’s game against Chelsea on Sunday.
The England striker, who has missed United’s last three matches with a groin injury, has returned to training after a warm-weather break in Egypt but is not fit enough to face the club who tried to sign him last summer.
And United will be without their two top scorers as Robin van Persie is also unavailable for the match at Stamford Bridge, though he is likely to return to training next week and manager David Moyes hopes his main strikers will both be in contention to feature soon.
It's hard enough to beat Chelsea at full strength, especially at Stamford Bridge, where the Blues have yet to lose, winning nine and drawing one. While United have actually been quite good on the road (20 of a possible 30 points), trying to beat Chelsea without their two best players is a huge task.
Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho didn't seem to play too many mind games when asked about United's season this week—is that a mind game in and of itself? How far down the rabbit hole are we going with the "mind games" at this point?—but he did assess his approach for this game and reflect upon his approach the last time these teams met, a scoreless draw early in the season.
His comments, via Miguel Delaney of ESPN:
It's not about them. It's about us. In this moment, I feel my team is living a good moment, playing with some stability. The team is quite confident with the ball. Normally we are dominant and have possession of the game. It's an evolution in a certain direction. If the game was at Old Trafford now, I'd go in a different way. But that was the first away game of the season, at Old Trafford and important not to lose. In the end, a point was not a bad point. It's always a point.
The problem for United is that Chelsea are much stronger in the midfield, especially with the addition of Nemanja Matic. While Michael Carrick has been quite good, finding him support in the midfield has been quite difficult.
If Chelsea dominate the middle portion of the field and find their playmakers like Eden Hazard, Oscar, Juan Mata or Willian in space (depending on the formation and personnel Mourinho utilizes) it could be a very, very long day for United.
For as good as Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj have been, they don't represent the same type of counter-attacking threat as Rooney and van Persie would. And that may very well be the difference in this one.
United is like a cornered animal at this point, and that does make them extremely dangerous. They are also the very clear underdogs in this contest, which should play to their advantage.
Which team wins?
But Chelsea have seemed to save their best for the top opponents on the schedule, especially at home. They are disciplined in the back, creative and piercing in the attack, and are receiving a major bolster in the midfield with Matic now on board.
United won't go down without a fight, but they won't steal any points, either. Chelsea win, 2-1.