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United v Chelsea: Di Maria ready for United’s biggest test

October 25, 2014 Tags: , Matches 7 comments
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It has been billed as the master versus the pupil; Louis van Gaal against José Mourinho. More than 15 years since they worked together at Barcelona the pair reunites as Manchester United and Chelsea meet on Sunday. Time has taken each on a different path, but somehow inevitably to Old Trafford. After all, the Portuguese coach was widely believed to be desperate to take the United job before David Moyes, inexplicably, was anointed by Sir Alex Ferguson last summer.

Moyes failed and in his stead Van Gaal is picking up the pieces of a disastrous season under the Scot. United’s squad has been blessed with an influx of £150 million worth of new talent, but the club’s stock has fallen such that the Reds start the fixture 10 Premier League points behind Chelsea. It is not often in the past decade that Chelsea has arrived at Old Trafford favourites, but the west Londoners do so and some.

Van Gaal’s side has rarely found the balance between attacking riches and defensive inexperience this season. Not least because of an injury list that has stretched, at times, to a full 10 players. That burden is easing, although the manner in which United’s forwards misfired at the Hawthorns last weekend, while the Dutchman’s back-four found itself all too often out of shape, is concerning. More than three months into the job, Van Gaal has much to do.

The contrast with Mourinho’s side is stark, of course, with Chelsea unbeaten and seemingly bounding towards the Premier League title even at this early stage of the campaign. Yet, while Chelsea leaps ahead on the pitch, Van Gaal is unwilling to be drawn into a personal battle with his former assistant – nor the ‘mind games’ seemingly the obsession of the fourth estate.

“I don’t know him as a manager because I am never there,” said the 62-year-old.

“I know him as a person and as my assistant manager. Maybe you know that I am always a controversial person and a lot of media has written about that. I am a little bit iron, an iron shield. Everyone can write or speak about me and I cannot change that. It took a long time for me to understand that but I cannot change what you are writing about me. So I have learned not to react and to believe in myself, my players and staff.

“When did I learn this? Since coming to England! Every human being reacts in his own way to what is said and you have to ask him why he reacts like he does, not me. We hardly speak to each other, only sometimes on SMS. When we see each other, we feel the warmth between us and our families, which is nice.”

Sunday is a test both of the Dutchman’s progress at United and the gap United must bridge more than any personal duel. In truth the Reds are some distance behind the country’s best, although on an upward trajectory that has kept criticism of  a stuttering start to the season to a minimum.

The easing injury burden helps, especially with key players Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria fit to face the Blues. Michael Carrick could make the bench, while Wayne Rooney serves the final game of a three match suspension.

“Ander was already fit for the last game and, with Di Maria, I said after the match that normally it [the injury] should not be so heavy and it’s not heavy,” said van Gaal on Friday.

“So he has trained. It was only the first day that he didn’t train so he has trained from Thursday, no problem. I’m sorry to say no other players are returning. Even, for example, I let Michael Carrick play this evening in London for the reserves because I believe that he needs that. He needs to play matches, especially when you are five months injured. He told me it was his first appearance in the second team. Antonio Valencia and Jonny Evans are not fit enough.”

Manchester United v Chelsea, Old Trafford, Premier League 26 October 2014

Mourinho is without injured striker Loic Remy and midfielder John Obi Mikel, while Cesar Azpilicueta is suspended after being sent off against Crystal Palace last weekend. The Chelsea coach has already declared Diego Costa injured, although few in Van Gaal’s camp will be surprised if the Brazilian-Spaniard makes the Chelsea team. German midfielder Andre Schürle could start up front if Costa cannot start.

“If Diego is ready to play, he plays. I still don’t know who is available. Normally two days before the game I know the team, I have no doubts, everything is clear in my brain,” said Mourinho.

“Man United are in a fantastic position. You are in a difficult position when you don’t have the funds to be behind the rebuilding of a team. When you have the funds you have to buy well and coach them well, and I know Louis is capable of buying and coaching them well so they are fine. But we are very confident about ourselves.”

Mourinho, too, is keen to play down talk of personal rivalry, although the thought-experiment abounds of what might have been if United had appointed the Portuguese to the job he truly wanted last summer.

“I’m not playing against Louis on Sunday, Chelsea are playing against United. During the match I have no time – and he has no time – to look around and see who the opposition manager is,” insists Mourinho.

“Before the match and after the match he is one of my big friends in football and I will always be happy to see him. I’ve never hidden what I feel about him. As a young coach to be working four consecutive years at a club like Barcelona – one with Mr Robson and three with Louis – was very important.”

On Sunday, however, it is the pupil who remains favourite to take the spoils.

Teams
United (4-1-2-1-2): de Gea; Rafael, Jones, Rojo, Shaw; Blind; Herrera, Di Maria; Mata; Van Persie, Falcao
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Felipe; Matic, Fabregas; Hazard, Oscar, Willian; Costa

Subs from
United: Lindegaard, Blackett, Vermijl, Thorpe, Smalling, Janko, Fletcher, Carrick, Pereira, Fellaini, Anderson, Januzaj, Wilson
Chelsea: Cech, Zouma, Aké, Drogba, Salah, Ramires, Christensen, Boga, Baker, Solanke, Drogba

Head-to-head
United 70 – Draw 50 – Chelsea 48

Officials
Referee: Phil Dowd
Assistants: G Beswick, D Cann
Fourth Official: C Foy

Prediction
United 0-1 Chelsea

£1 bet club
Chelsea to win 1-0 and Costa to score @ 20/1
Running total: £(-)9

Rant forum thread

7 comments

Tom - October 25, 2014 Reply

Wouldn’t have mata near the team!

David Johansson - October 26, 2014 Reply

Lovely! Keep up the good work lads!

Subterranean Steve - October 26, 2014 Reply

‘It has been billed as the master versus the pupil’

Well, the pupil has become a master himself, so let’s hope that the Dutch old master has still got a trick or two left.

Chisomo-kumbuyo - October 26, 2014 Reply

A 4-1-2-1-2 with Mata in it will be suicidal for United. This is a game where tactics win over flare. I would go for a 4-2-3-1 with De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Rojo and Shaw as the back 5. Fellaini and Blind as two holding midfielders. Di Maria, Herrera and Valencia as the front three supporting Falcao. Fellaini is in it for his physicality, a thing United are missing. Herrera over Mata for his work rate. My subs would be Amos, Smalling, Carrick, Januzaj, Mata, RvP, Young

Chisomo Kumbuyo - October 26, 2014 Reply

a 4-1-2-1-2 will be suicidal for united. we need to be solid and hard to beat. A 4-2-3-1 will be suitable for this game.

nik - October 26, 2014 Reply

Got an awful feeling that both Fell and Young will play

Tom Parkinson - October 26, 2014 Reply

Seems to be a bit of chat that Falcao is injured, and so won’t be playing today. That’s a massive blow, we need his physical presence up front to keep Terry and Cahill busy.

Can’t see us playing with 2 strikers either way, we’ll need to pack out the midfield significantly more than we have been doing this season.

My team guess is:

De Gea – Rafael, Jones, Rojo, Shaw – Blind, Fellaini, Herrera – Di Maria, Januzaj, Falcao (if fit)

Let Fellaini get forward and occupy the defence, and adds extra height for defending set pieces. Di Maria and Januzaj wide to get decent balls in the box, but only if Falcao can play with his aerial strength. No point putting crosses in with Van Persie the only striker, saw that last week.

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