By Andrew Embling
- Manchester United are looking to improve on a record of one victory in ten years at Stamford Bridge
- What will be the key battles in this encounter
Manchester United travel to a rejuvenated Chelsea on Sunday looking for back to back victories in the Premier League for the first time since November.
United looked much more dangerous in their 3-0 win against Stoke on Tuesday night, but they won’t find it easy against a Chelsea side who are starting to find their feet and their form under interim coach Guus Hiddink.
Chelsea are aiming to make it 10 games without defeat under the Dutchman, who is in his second spell at the London club.
The Blues have a good record against United and are currently on a nine game unbeaten streak against the Red Devils in all competitions.
United have won just one Premier League game at Stamford Bridge since 2002 – a 3-2 victory in October 2012 – and Louis Van Gaal will hope he can mastermind a change in fortune in the capital.
The return of Michael Carrick came as a boost to United against Stoke, whilst Chelsea’s star man, Eden Hazard, is expected to start on Sunday despite a difficult season.
Both sides have plenty of long term casualties on the treatment table, but there are plenty of top class players who could make a difference.
Chris Smalling v Diego Costa
Smalling has been one of United’s stand out players this season, but will find his hands full against the mean and moody Costa.
The Chelsea man looked far from interested early in the season, but has rediscovered his goal scoring form since Hiddink took charge and has started to make life difficult for defenders with his runs off the ball.
The abrasive Costa was once again the pantomime villain in Chelsea’s draw against Watford in midweek and will be looking to provoke a reaction from Smalling and his fellow United defenders.
If Costa gets the better of the United defence there could be fireworks with the Spaniard a clinical finisher in and around the box, but Smalling has stepped up a level and is one of only a few players who have played at a consistent level for Van Gaal this season.
Smalling was penalised for jostling in the area against Newcastle – costing United a penalty – and Costa will try and gain any advantage he can at set pieces, with the Spaniard prone to overreaction.
But Smalling has matured as a player this season and his leadership of the United backline has helped the Red Devils to one of the best defensive records in the Premier League this season.
Behind him Smalling knows that he has one of the best goalkeepers in the world in the form of David de Gea, but the defender will be hoping to keep Costa quiet and give de Gea an easy afternoon.
Anthony Martial v Branislav Ivanovic
Frenchman Martial gave Stoke’s defence a torrid time on Tuesday night with his pace and trickery and he’ll be hoping to give Ivanovic a tough time at the weekend.
The 20-year-old has arguably been United’s brightest attacking spark since his arrival in the summer and, whilst he has been employed more as a left winger than and striker he has shown his class.
United will be keen to give Martial a run at Ivanovic, who has been far from his best this season, but the 31-year-old Serbian should not be underestimated.
Ivanovic is a tigerish and aggressive defender who likes to get forward and Martial will need to be aware of his defensive duties when Chelsea counter.
Whoever comes out on top in this battle could hold the key to where the points end up with Martial difficult to shackle if he’s in the mood.
Wayne Rooney v John Terry
United captain Rooney has found a rich vein of form, with five goals in his last five league appearances.
He now stands just five goals away from equaling the club’s all-time goalscoring record held by Bobby Charlton.
But there is more to Rooney than just putting the ball in the back of the net and the skipper also has three assists to add to his recent run of goals.
When he is confident and firing on all cylinders Rooney is a handful for any defence and Chelsea skipper John Terry may find he has his hands full on Sunday afternoon.
Veteran defender Terry has confirmed he won’t be staying at Stamford Bridge beyond the end of this season, but although he is coming to the end of his Chelsea career he is still a first choice for the Londoners.
Terry may lack pace, but he is still a difficult defender to get the better of, happy to put his body where it hurts as well as having a knack of scoring goals.
The Chelsea skipper will be a threat in the air at set pieces, but Rooney will be confident that if he can get the better of his opposite number he can edge closer to that goalscoring record.
If United are to take the three points away from Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon they will need to come on top of these key battles.