By John Ryan
- Jones, Smalling and Mata still unavailable
- Doubts over fitness of Rooney and Young
On November 6th 2005 Manchester United beat Premier League champions Chelsea at Old Trafford. Going into the game Chelsea had a thirteen point lead on United and were enjoying a forty game unbeaten run.
Alex Ferguson’s men produced a backs to the wall performance and a first half moment of magic saw Ronaldo cross to Darren Fletcher whose header won the game for the home side.
United were in the process of rebuilding and a few days later Roy Keane was shown the exit door while Ruud Van Nistelrooy departed six months later.
Ferguson knew the importance of such a win even while rebuilding. Eighteen months later United were champions of England and a thirty months on champions of Europe.
Can Jose Inspire A Similar Performance?
Jose Mourinho was Chelsea’s manager that day and hopefully the significance of that win has not left him.
Chelsea are all but English champions this season but to beat them on Sunday would be huge for United. The draw in Belgium midweek has again frustrated United fans.
The team is creating chances but not taking them and then falling to sucker punches. Most fans would have taken a score draw prior to the game but how the game unwound leaves Reds scratching their heads in amazement.
Jose has again blamed his front players for not being clinical.
Paul Pogba in particular had a golden chance to make the Anderlecht game safe but fluffed his lines. Another game ended in a draw that should have been a win, more what might have been. Mourinho needs his men to be ruthless and no better game to start than Chelsea.
The champions elect have dropped just six points on the road this season while at Old Trafford United have dropped a whopping twenty one points.
Last October Chelsea humiliated United at Stamford Bridge and eased past United in the FA Cup meaning two wins for Chelsea and no goals for United.
Mourinho Has stopped A Title Charge Before
Mourinho is no stranger to halting title charges.
Just three years ago Liverpool seemed on an unstoppable March to their holy grail until a brilliant defensive performance from Chelsea sent the title to the Etihad via a Steven Gerard slip.
Statistically United will need to score at least two goals to win this one such is the free scoring nature of Chelsea away from home.
With United’s lack of goals in front of their own fans this game brings the potential of only the second home league defeat of the season.
If that happens then obviously all focus will go on the Europa League but a home win on Sunday would be an excellent barometer of the true fight in this side.
United Missing Key Players
Jones, Smalling and Mata are still out injured while Young and Rooney did not travel to Belgium.
It is unlikely that Mourinho will send United into all out attack on Sunday with a more pragmatic approach on the horizon especially given the rigours of the Europa League.
The midfield battle between Pogba and Kante will again be crucial. United pushed their players up on Chelsea to good success in the FA Cup tie but those plans were ruined by Ander Herrera’s red card. Jose will no doubt take this into account and a chess match awaits us.
Conte: No Rift With Mourinho
Antonio Conte was very complimentary about Mourinho this week and insisted there is no problem between them. But he knows that a win on Sunday would be huge and will surely be tempted to go for the throat in this one.
His tactics and passion have been a welcome addition to English football and he comes across as a likable character. That though is where any welcome for him will end on Sunday.
With Costa and Hazard scoring over thirty goals between them this season Chelsea will not fear United and will attack. The counter attack is where United can win this game.
Expect the home fans to be up for this game and to back Mourinho to the hilt.
If Rojo plays Costa the same way as he did in the FA Cup game and if United can support Zlatan high up the field then a victory just like Ferguson achieved twelve years ago could lay in store.
Score Prediction: United 1-0 Chelsea