Chelsea vs Manchester United KO: Sunday 16:00 Old Trafford
Sundays clash is the first real test for both teams and it should be interesting. Although it is premature to view this as a potential title decider, it will certainly give a indication of the progress made since last season.
The two teams are both sitting largely where expected in the league table, but it's the style and margin of their respective victories that have set them apart; especially in terms of opinion amongst pundits and the media.
Manchester United have started the season in scintillating form, with the 8-2 win at Arsenal and 5-0 win at Bolton catching the eye in particular. Their attacking play, spearheaded by a rejuvenated and in-form Wayne Rooney and youngsters such as Tom Cleverly, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, has impressed.
Chelsea start the day with three wins from four games, which is not to be sniffed at. However, you get the sense they have yet to kick into gear this season, and manager Andre Villas-Boas still seems to be looking for his best 11.
The last clash between the two teams ended in a 2-1 win for Manchester United, which ended a run of three consecutive victories for Chelsea—all of which came under old manager Carlo Ancelotti. The manner of those victories somewhat controversial. The 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge proving particularly contentious.
Manchester United Team News
The Reds will be without Rafael, Cleverly and Nemanja Vidic. There are doubts over Danny Welbeck, whom Ferguson has said is back in training this week, although with adequate depth in the striking department is unlikely to be rushed back.
However, with the impressive form of Jones and Smalling, defence is not so much of a worry as initially thought when Vidic, Rafael and Ferdinand were ruled out in the first game of the season. The defence will be boosted by the earlier-than-expected presence of the latter, who played in the 5-0 win at Bolton and was rested mid-week.
The much-changed lineup against Benfica gave us an indication of who will be likely to play on Sunday, with the midweek game used to help boost fitness to players like Darren Fletcher, Ji-Sung Park and Antonio Valencia. The impressive performance of Anders Lindegaard had led many to suggest that he could be in contention to start against Chelsea, but the subsequent postmatch press conference appears to have put pay to that.
The injury to Cleverly will appear to have freed up a spot for anyone of Park, Fletcher and Michael Carrick, each of them playing in midweek. Anderson, having been rested, is likely to be recalled considering his tenacity and general good form. Up front, Chicarito will surely be given his first start of the season.
Chelsea Team News
With the confirmed absence of Didier Drogba as a result of the concussion suffered against Norwich, it gives the manager somewhat of a headache himself in team selection. He is left with the continuing problem of Fernando Torres—his lack of goals in particular the cause of much debate and analysis.
Admittedly, there were signs that green shoots of recovery were in force against Bayer Leverkusen with his two assists, but either way still does not look like the player who has made a habit of terrorising the Manchester United defence in his Liverpool days. Villas-Boas does have credible alternatives in Daniel Sturridge and Nicolas Anelka.
The good news for Chelsea is that Juan Mata and David Luiz, both scorers in their midweek clash, are likely to start.
Make no mistake about it, this will be a closely contested game. It always is. However, with Chelsea and Torres still searching for their best form, I think this game will have come to soon for them.
Home win for Manchester United 2-1.
Predicted United Xl:
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Defence: Smalling, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra
Midfield- Park, Carrick, Nani, Young, Carrick
Defence: Bosingwa, Luiz, Terry, Cole
Midfield: Ramires, Lampard, Mata, Meireles, Malouda