There are few place that Sir Alex Ferguson visits with justifiable trepidation, not considering the 70-year-old’s record without peer, but Stamford Bridge is surely one. In 25 trips to the west London ground during Ferguson’s reign, Manchester United has emerged victorious just six times. Indeed, Ferguson’s record in 50 matches against the Londoners is only marginally victorious – one that will be tested once again as United visit the Premier League leaders on Sunday.
United has infrequently impressed this season, although the Reds campaign clicks into another gear in the coming week, with a league and cup double-header against Chelsea, followed by Arsenal’s visit to Old Trafford next weekend. The next seven days could prove a crucial period, with defeat at Stamford Bridge leaving United seven points behind the leaders.
Ferguson’s men must defend better than in recent weeks if United is to get a result on Sunday, especially given the nature of soft goals conceded against both Stoke City and SC Braga in recent matches. And that is to say little for Chelsea’s firepower this season as Roman Abramovich’s attacking evolution takes hold a Stamford Bridge.
“They’re top of the league after a great start to the season – they’ve done really well,” Ferguson told the media on Friday.
“They’ve played an interesting formation and it’s something we have to deal with. They’ve brought Oscar and Hazard into the team – they’re similar types of players, I think. They’re adapting to having players like Mata also in the same position – there is a situation where they’re in behind the front player all the time. It’s not an easy system to deal with, but we just have to find a way.
“They’re all similar players, they play in behind the main striker. Of course they don’t have Didier Drogba so their game had to change anyway. They always had that alternative route of playing with Drogba up front – they could play it long or they could play it through midfield. Now it’s straightforward, it’s through midfield all the time.”
United’s transformation this season, initially built around Shinji Kagawa’s creativity and Robin van Persie’s goals, has halted in recent weeks as Ferguson tinkered with formations and tactics. Kagawa will miss the match – and the next month – with a knee injury, although Sir Alex had marginalised the Japanese midfield in recent weeks in any case.
Indeed, Ferguson’s tactical thinking will be tested once again at Stamford Bridge where the Scot’s predilection for defensive selections in crucial matches over the past year may yet come to the fore. More than a few United fans will be thankful that Park Ji-Sung’s departure last summer means the South Korean cannot start on Sunday.
Still, with Paul Scholes likely to start alongside Michael Carrick in central midfield, Ferguson will call on plenty of experience in west London for a crucial week ahead. Meanwhile,
David de Gea will retain the goalkeeper’s spot with Anders Lindegaard out, and Chris Smalling could return to the matchday squad after recovering from long-term injury.
“We’ve got three massive games really in a week,” admitted Scholes.
“Obviously Chelsea twice and then Arsenal at home. Sunday is a big one. We’ve not got a brilliant record at Chelsea over the last few years and it’s something we hope we can change.
“We watched them against Tottenham last week. They’ve signed a different type of player to a couple of years back when you were looking at a big, powerful team. Now they’ve signed smaller, better footballers who are difficult to play against. We know each of them is capable of creating chances and scoring goals themselves.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea manager Robert Di Matteo is without captain John Terry, who is banned for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand last year, and Frank Lampard who has a calf injury. More pressing still, De Matteo is seeking a response from his players after the side’s Champions League defeat to Shaktar Donetsk in midweek.
Defeat has undermined an outstanding start to the new campaign by the European champions, but Ferguson’s men must still overcome the Premier League’s only 100 per cent home record to take anything from Sunday’s match. It is a record every bit as daunting as Ferguson’s is underwhelming in matches at Stamford Bridge over the years.
Chelsea v Manchester United – Premier League, Stamford Bridge – Sunday 29 October 2012, 4pm
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Oscar, Mata, Hazard; Torres. Subs from: Hilário, Bertrand, Azpilicueta, Romeu, Ferreira, Moses, Malouda, Piazón, Marin, Sturridge.
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Scholes, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Welbeck; van Persie. Subs from: Johnstone, Wootton, Buttner, Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher, Giggs, Nani, Young, Hernández.
Referee: M Clattenburg
Assistants: M McDonough, S Long
Fourth Official: M Jones
Head to Head
Last 10: United 5, Chelsea 3, Draw 2
Overall: United 78, Chelsea 41, Draw 48
- Despite a disappointing Champions League outing in the week, Chelsea’s Premier League form has been outstanding this season, with the Blues recording a 4-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend;
- That performance means Chelsea now has four of the top five ranked players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index this season, with Juan Mata top ahead of Fernando Torres in second, Eden Hazard in third, and Branislav Ivanovic in fifth;
- Mata now has three goals and five assists to his name, and has completed 271 passes in his opponents half – the fifth highest number of passes overall in the Index;
- Mata covered 6.95 miles against Spurs, the most by a Chelsea player in a single game so far this season, while Ramires’ 6.69 miles in the same game was the second highest,;
- Defender Cahill, increasingly be in the spotlight as John Terry serves a four match ban, has two goals to his name this season, and has made an impressive six blocks – Chelsea’s defenders have scored six of the side’s 18 goals this season;
- Brazilian Oscar has netted twice in Europe this season, but is yet to score in the Premier League, although the youngster has made 13 attempts at goal;
- Meanwhile, van Persie remains joint top goalscorer in the Premier League with six goals from eight games – the Dutchman’s haul coming from 17 shots at goal;
- Early rivals for the golden boot, Michu and Demba Ba, are both also on six goals too, but have required 20 and 30 efforts at goal to reach that total;
- van Persie’s ratio of shots on target is just 47 percent, but the striker still has one of the best minutes-per-goal quotients in the league with one every 106 minutes and 40 seconds this season;
- Paul Scholes picked up his fourth yellow card in just 440 minutes of play against Stoke last weekend, although the midfielder may consider his reputation a factor as he had committed just nine fouls compared to Aston Villa’s Karim El Ahmadi who has committed 17 fouls the same number of cards;
- Rooney’s 6.75 miles against Stoke was the joint highest distance covered by a United player in a single game this season, while Carrick’s 6.63 miles was enough to put the Geordie fourth overall in the Index for distance covered with 49.56 miles