It’s super match time at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea raring to host Man United in match week 18, on Sunday, December 19.
Chelsea lost 3-1 in the traditional season opener when they met the Red Devils in the Community shield final at Wembley on August 8. On the back of that result, there was much speculation about how the league season would unfold.
Before that game, United were talked about as a team over-reliant on Wayne Rooney who hadn’t scored a goal since March. Additionally, Rooney’s poor form at the World Cup in South Africa did not augur well for Sir Alex’s charges.
Berbatov and Nani had proved inadequate replacements for the departing Ronaldo and Tevez, in the 2009-10 season, when the Old Trafford squad had fallen a point short of the title, riding on Rooney’s prolific form during the season.
United’s win in the Community Shield final was fuelled by second half substitutes Berbatov and Nani combining brilliantly up front, and was augmented by new signings in Valencia and Hernandez, and an ageing Scholes, who belied his years with some spectacular passing.
Van der Sar was safe as ever between the posts; Vidic and Evans were solid in defence. Rooney who only played in the first half was quiet, apart from a brilliant squared pass to Valencia off an aerial ball from Scholes, that set up Valencia’s goal. Carrick kept it simply with short effective passes, while Park and Owen had quiet games without much energy on display.
While Hernandez’s goal-scoring ability was highlighted, when he netted United’s second of the match, it was Valencia who was outstanding on the day with his runs down the right flank. Cole was simply unable to handle the Ecuadorian’s pace and guile.
In Cech’s absence, Hilario did duty between the posts, for Chelsea. He was let down by the back four with Terry appearing not to have shaken of the ghosts of the World Cup. Though Ivanovic and Ferreira were efficient without being brilliant, they were exposed to dangerous crosses following Cole’s inability to close the spaces on Chelsea’s left flank.
Lampard, in deep midfield, like Terry, appeared to be still in the throes of his World Cup hangover, while Mikel who partnered him did not do enough to close down the space in the rivals’ midfield.
Kalou was the lone bright spot with brilliant runs and dribbles but suffered for lack of support from his attacking partners. Anelka appeared unconnected and did not pose any threat to the United goal. Malouda showed glimpses of his potential but like Kalou sought support that he did not get.
Drogba fresh from his surgery that kept him out of much of the World Cup was a shadow of his self as he came on as a second-half substitute, while Sturridge and Benayoun did not have sufficient scope to display their prowess, in brief second-half cameos.
Much proverbial water has flowed under the Premier League bridge since the Wembley game that broke a run of three successive defeats for the Red Devils against the Blues.
Chelsea began their season brilliantly with back to back 6-0 wins, albeit against much weaker opponents in West Brom and Wigan. they followed that up with wins over Stoke, West Ham and Blackpool, and after five match weeks appeared to be running away with the league title, even as arch-rivals Man United recorded a couple of away draws against Fulham and Everton, sandwiched by home wins against Newcastle, West Ham and Liverpool, in their first five games.
Away losses to Man City and Aston Villa on either side of a home win against Arsenal, reduced Blues’ momentum somewhat, but they stayed at the top of the table, even as Bolton, Sunderland and West Brom snatched a point each from the Red Devils in their next three games.
The Old Trafford squad began to regain their stride with back to back wins in their ninth and tenth games against Wolves and Blackburn; United won their ninth and tenth against Stoke and Tottenham to keep the Old Trafford hat in the ring.
The next games took the steam out of Chelsea’s campaign, with three losses to Liverpool, Sunderland and Birmingham, and two draws to Newcastle and Everton. With just the solitary win in this span, against Fulham, Ancelotti’s squad were suddenly third in the points table after heading it for 15 weeks.
Meanwhile, Manchester United recorded wins against Wolves, Wigan and Blackburn, alongside draws against Man City and Aston Villa in their games from 11 to 15. With match 16 against Blackpool called off owing to inclement weather, United are sitting pretty, just a point behind new table toppers Arsenal.
A look at the last nine league games between Chelsea and United makes interesting reading. Chelsea have enjoyed an overwhleming dominance over the Red Devils during this span, with five wins and just the solitary loss.
chelsea’s home record this season has been excellent, winning six of eight games hosted, while losing just the one and drawing the remaining one.
United’s away record has not been very good in terms of matches won; on the road, Sir Alex’s squad have won just a single game, while drawing six.
Both sides should go with a full-strength eleven on December 19. Chelsea will welcome Lampard’s return to the fray, and that should give the Blues the stability they currently lack in midfield.
Chelsea’s probable starting eleven: Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Essien, Lampard, Malouda, Kalou, Drogba and Anelka.
Man United’s probable starting eleven: Van der Sar, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Park, Berbatov and Rooney
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