Tag Chelsea

Tag Chelsea

Preview: United v Chelsea

May 5, 2013 Tags: , Matches 118 comments
featured image

The season may be winding down, but Sir Alex Ferguson appears in no mood to for his team to let up just yet. Manchester United’s creditable draw at Arsenal last weekend followed a slow start at the Emirates, but a strong second half performance left Ferguson’s men disappointed to leave the north London with just a point.

What then of United’s fixture with Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday? With little on the line for the Reds, but everything for Rafa Benitez’ visitors, it is another match of contrasting motivations.

The title secured, Ferguson’s men have little but a modicum of revenge at stake. And pride in the integrity of competition, of course, with Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur each chasing Champions League places.

After all, while United secured victory at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League earlier this season, Chelsea knocked Ferguson’s side out of two cup competitions during the campaign.

Meanwhile, Benitez has just a handful of games to secure Champions League football next season, with Chelsea in a three-way race for third and fourth spots in the Premier League.

United, in relaxed mood, will surely lack the a certain edge on the biggest occasion, of course. But if the Reds’ second-half performance against Arsenal is any evidence, Ferguson is unlikely to being in charitable mood. Not, of course, given the personal animosity between the Scot and Benitez, which has rarely been kept below the surface since the Spaniard’s “facts” rant in January 2009.

This is a relationship built on anything but trust and mutual respect. Indeed, Benitez is one of the few managers to eschew the norms of managerial conduct, says Ferguson. The Spaniard accused Ferguson of refusing to shake his hand after the 2-2 FA Cup draw  earlier this season.

“At the end of a game I always shake hands and we always have a meeting in my office afterwards with both sets of staff,” said the 71-year-old United manager this week.

“It is the right thing to do. It is an opportunity to get away from the game itself. You maybe see managers twice a year, so that opportunity to spend half an hour with them after a match is vital. You can discuss your jobs and a lot of issues.

“It is not easy if you have lost a game to go in. It is our chance to show we are Manchester United. No matter the result, go in. He (Benitez) came in once when he was at Liverpool. I don’t think he has come in again.”

Benitez says he will not share a glass with Sir Alex on Sunday either whatever the result.

Chelsea beat FC Basel on Thursday to reach the Europa League final, one goal of the three handed to Benitez when he took the reigns earlier in the campaign.

The west London outfit lost an FA Cup semi-final to Manchester City, while the Blues slipped to fourth in the Premier League after victories for both Arsenal and Spurs on Saturday. Next Wednesday’s clash against Spurs could prove decisive in the race for fourth.

But it has also been a period of upheaval at Stamford Bridge, with Benitez not only facing protests from the terraces, but standing accused of prioritising cup competitions over Chelsea’s greater need for Champions League football next season.

“He is very concerned about his CV,” jibed Ferguson. “He refers to it quite a lot.”

Meanwhile, Benitez this week accused Ferguson of buying years of success – and suggested that the relationship between the two managers has been strained only because of the Spaniard’s challenge to the older man.

“When you are with a top side, and you have had more money than anyone for years, then you can keep winning and you can keep talking,” said Benitez, who will again be out of a job come 19 May.

“He doesn’t (like me), he doesn’t, but it depends on the moment. You have to do what you have to do for your team. At the time (2009), he knew that Liverpool were very close. That was the situation. Now it is very different because they have won the title. But are they better than Manchester City? I am not sure. Are they better than Chelsea? I am not sure.”

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League, Old Trafford - 5 May 2013, 4pmWhile United’s points lead over City stands at 13, it is 20 greater than Chelsea’s. Still, Sunday offers another opportunity for bragging rights in a techy relationship between the two men.

Ferguson’s team heads into the clash fresher, but without a clutch of players. Ashley Young remains out, while Danny Welbeck is unlikely to return before next week’s fixture with Swansea City. However, veteran Paul Scholes should return to the squad for Sunday’s match.

“Welbeck is out of Sunday,” Sir Alex confirmed. “The rest are all fit. Scholes and Vidic are training and I’ll probably put Scholes on the bench on Sunday to get him back into the fray. I’d love him to play in the Swansea game.

“Chelsea have done fantastically well over the last few weeks and they are in the final of the Europa League. Chelsea are chasing a Champions League place as well and we’ll be playing the strongest team we can. We need to play with good enthusiasm and enjoy it. We should express ourselves and try to finish off a good season.”

Meanwhile, Benitez’ team heads north with rumours of José Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge resonating throughout the travelling support. It will do little but undermine the Spaniard’s position.

Still, with the Blues reaching the Europa League final, the mood in the camp is buoyant. The side also receives a double boost, with left-back Ashley Cole returning after missing Thursday’s Europa League win over Basel through suspension, and striker Demba Ba is also available again.

Oscar, John Terry and Eden Hazard could all return after being rotated out of the side for the clash with Basel. However, Benitez must balance his line-up against United against the one that played against the Swiss, and Wednesday’s crucial fixture with Spurs.

Match details
Manchester United v Chelsea – Premier League, Old Trafford – 4pm, 5 May 2013

Possible teams
United (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Rafael, Vidić, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Giggs; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa, van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Jones, Evans, Powell, Scholes, Cleverley, Anderson, Nani, Welbeck, Hernández

Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Luiz, Cole; Lampard, Mikel; Oscar, Hazard, Mata; Torres. Subs from: Turnbull, Hilario, Bertrand, Terry, Azpilicueta, Ramires, Moses, Benayoun, Marin, Ake, Ferreira, Ba.

Match officials
Referee: Howard Webb
Assistants: M Mullarkey, S Massey
Fourth Official: A Marriner

United: LLWDWD
Chelsea: LWDWWW

Last 10: United 5, Chelsea 3, Draw 2
Overall: United 72, Chelsea 46, Draw 49


  • Wayne Rooney’s future may be uncertain, but his numbers remain positive, with 123 attacking contributions this season, as well as a pass in the opponent’s half once every 3.1 minutes on average;
  • French international Patrice Evra currently lies third in the United squad for crosses delivered with 42 – he is the second oldest full-back in the league to have broken the 30-cross barrier, behind Reading’s Nicky Shorey;
  • Danny Welbeck has been deployed up-front and on the flank this season, but boasts just a 56.3 per cent shot accuracy rate in front of goal despite managing an attempt on goal once every 42.2 minutes he’s been on the pitch;
  • Frank Lampard scored last week, edging the midfielder towards a club record goals tally – Lampard has achieved a shot accuracy rate of 63.5 per cent from 63 attempts this season, one shot every 44.3 minutes on the pitch;
  • David Luiz has made more interceptions than any other Blues player this season with 122, as well as averaging at a squad-best rate of defensive contributions – one every 13.1 minutes according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Eden Hazard lies second to Juan Mata as Chelsea’s main creative force, making an attacking contribution (dribble, cross, shot on target or assist) on average once every 16.5 minutes, as well as joining an elite group of players to have made a pass in the opponent’s half  once every 3 minutes or less on average.


Preview: Chelsea v United

March 31, 2013 Tags: , Matches 76 comments
featured image

Just 48 hours on from a laboured victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side hits the road once again on Monday. The Scot flew his Manchester United team home from the north east at the weekend, seeking any possible advantage ahead of United’s FA Cup quarter-final replay with Chelsea on Easter Monday. And while Monday’s match is another away from Old Trafford for United’s weary players, it is one with a significant carrot: victory brings a semi against rivals Manchester City at Wembley.

United took another huge step towards reclaiming the Premier League title at the weekend by securing three points against relegation threatened Sunderland. Ferguson can hardly have been impressed with his side’s efforts though; the third match in succession that the Reds achieved just enough, but little more.

That short run of mediocre form includes the opening cup match between these sides – a 2-2 draw in which Ferguson’s side was left hanging on for a draw just days after defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League. Indeed, United’s break against Chelsea at Old Trafford came amid a strong finish from the Londoners, while Ferguson’s players appeared spent by the tie’s end.

The contrasting fortunes of the sides in recent weeks sets up Monday’s Cup clash; a battle that will go some way to define two campaigns.

“I thought we were lucky to be honest with you,” said Sir Alex of the first quarter-final clash between the sides.

“I thought that tiredness had got into the team and, from a comfortable position for the first 20 minutes, you could see the signs when we started to give the ball away just before half-time. That is a definite sign of tiredness.

“The tiredness came, possibly, from the emotional intensity of the Real Madrid game and also the way we lost it. In the second half in particular there was no doubt that Tom Cleverley’s and our two full-backs’ legs had gone. That made it a long game against Chelsea and they had the advantage of extra players in midfield.”

Two days after each side played in the Premier League, the respective stamina of these squads will once again be tested, with Ferguson likely to make wholesale changes at Stamford Bridge. He has little choice given United’s leg-weariness in recent matches.

Chelsea v Manchester United - FA Cup, Stamford Bridge - 12.30pm, 1 April 2013Ferguson could bring in eight or more new players, with Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nani, Javier Hernández and Tom Cleverley coming back into the side against Rafa Benitez’ outfit. Defenders Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand should also return after being rested against Sunderland.

Meanwhile, the Spaniard will again make changes to the side that lost at St Mary’s having rotated his squad heavily against Southampton on Saturday. Indeed, accusations that Benitez put his own vanity – a potential Cup win – over the club’s need for Champions League football next season weigh heavily on the temporary manager. After all, the former Liverpool manager has no chance of taking the role full time.

There is some good news for Benitez though, with Juan Mata returning to the Blues’ side after recovering from illness, although Gary Cahill is rated doubtful for the lunchtime clash.

Still, the home side has looked fresher in recent weeks, with Champions League football seemingly secure until Saturday’s defeat and the Europa League offering none of it’s bigger brother’s intensity. Defeat to Southampton may change the picture domestically at least, although in the short term it is United that must also overcome the disadvantage of both fatigue and injuries.

“We picked up two or three injuries, which doesn’t help,” said Ferguson after the Reds’ weekend victory.

“It was all down to the courage of the players that they got through it. Rafael got injured and Jonny Evans got a bit of a knock but carried on. That was great because we couldn’t afford to take him off. He said he’d last as long as he could but he got through it.

“I thought we’d lost David De Gea for a moment. He was out for a few minutes but recovered and played a really great part for us. Generally, we have a few bumps and bruises but we handled it well.”

With a double to chase this is no time for United’s season to wind down of course, although Ferguson’s hope of securing a record Premier League points total looks unrealistic on very recent form.

Still, with the Scot’s squad broad, if not truly deep, Ferguson will exploit the full resources on offer. After all, gaving gone 18 league matches without defeat has all but secured the Premier League title.

Should United win, the side will face City twice in a week; first, at Old Trafford in the Premier League next Monday, and then a Cup semi at Wembley on 14 April. Two games that will go a long way to deciding the Reds’ fate this season.

“We want to win the Double and we took a big step in the league,” van Persie told MUTV on Saturday.

“But we want to go for both. Now we have to look ahead to the FA Cup tie against Chelsea. It’s going to be a big test but I’m quite confident we can play well at Stamford Bridge and get a good result.

“It’s been nine years since United have won the FA Cup. It’s important to us. We have a big chance of reaching the semi-final against City. I don’t want to look too far ahead but we have a massive chance of winning the competition.”

With Cup final victory will surely come a first double since 1999 – the moment of Ferguson’s greatest hour. There are three tough matches in the competition before that, however, although with the Reds 15 points clear in the Premier League Ferguson can at least afford to refocus.

First, however, United must achieve a rare first – FA Cup victory at Stamford Bridge.

Match details
Chelsea v Manchester United – FA Cup, Stamford Bridge – 1 April 2013 March 2013, 12.30pm

Possible teams
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Luiz, Cole; Mikel, Ramires; Mata, Oscar, Hazard; Torres. Subs from: Turnbull, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Benayoun, Marin, Moses, Ba

United (4-3-3): de Gea; Smalling, Vidić, Ferdinand, Evra; Cleverley, Carrick, Giggs; Nani, Hernández, Rooney. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Evans, Powell, Young, Scholes, Valencia, Anderson, Kagawa, Welbeck, van Persie

Match officials
Referee: Philip Dowd
Assistant Referees: Peter Kirkup and Andy Garratt
Fourth Official: Neil Swarbrick

Chelsea: WLDWWL
United: WWLDWW

Head to Head
Last 10: Chelsea 2, United 6, Draw 2
Overall: Chelsea 45, United 72, Draw 49


Lampard unchained

January 18, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 33 comments

In recent weeks speculation has mounted that Chelsea’s Frank Lampard may be on his way to Old Trafford when the player’s Chelsea contract ends at the end of the season. The gossip has caused much consternation among Manchester United fans who, starting to doubt the waning powers of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand, struggle to see the value of bringing yet another veteran into Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad.

Certainly this season has seen Scholes and, in particular Giggs, stray further away from fans’ affections. Ferguson was heavily criticised by some supporters when he threw on the pair in United’s recent 1-1 draw against Swansea City as the Reds chased a victory.

Similarly, Scholes and Giggs’ lack of dynamism in the Boxing Day game against Newcastle United was cited as a reason for United’s lacklustre performance in the first hour of that match. Meanwhile, Ferdinand’s reputation has also been damaged due to United’s often woeful defending in the first half of the season.

Why then is Ferguson seemingly in the market for another player in his mid-30s?

Perhaps it is expedient. After all, it is not certain that any of his veterans will still be at the club come next season. Rumours have recently circulated that Ferdinand may be on his way to China in the search of one final giant pay cheque, while neither Scholes, nor Giggs, have committed to contracts next season amid rumours of imminent retirement.

In the event of the pair’s departure, United will lose 1638 games worth of experience in one go. It is a scenario in which Lampard arrives as a necessary replacement for, rather than a superfluous addition to, the squad’s most experienced players.

With Darren Fletcher seemingly unlikely to ever make a full return to Ferguson’s first team, following surgery on a bowel condition this week, United will be surely be further depleted of experience in the coming months.

Beyond experience Ferguson is attracted to Lampard’s enduring class. The midfielder has been at the centre of a Chelsea side that transformed from a decent Premiership outfit to a world football power in the past 10 years. In that time Lampard has been the Premier League’s preeminent goal-scoring midfielder, plundering an incredible 194 goals in 12 seasons for the Blues. Lampard’s presence was crucial as Chelsea finally claimed the Champions League last summer

Lampard’s hero-esque status also renders the Chelsea idol unsuitable for a rival such as United according to some, although the Londoner is generally viewed with respect among United’s following – a few ill-founded jokes about his weight apart. Certainly, Lampard has never aroused the passionate animosity that has always followed teammate John Terry and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.

Lampard would not be the first player to swap west London for Salford. Former Chelsea assistant manager Ray Wilkins served both clubs in the 1980s and the former England international believes that Chelsea’s vice-captain could do the same.
“He’ll want to continue and play at a high level – and there’s no higher level than Old Trafford,” Wilkins recently said. Wilkins also dubbed Ferguson “the master of utilising the older player” and suggested that his recent record of prolonging the careers of ageing players might appeal to the 34-year old Lampard.

Lampard claimed as recently as August that he can still play “at the top level for a good few years” and it seems unlikely that the midfielder is ready to follow former teammate Didier Drogba to one of football’s less popular leagues in search of an easily gained fortune. Certainly, with seven goals from 13 league games so far this season, some of which Lampard started on the bench, the midfielder’s capabilities show little sign of abating.

If Lampard makes the move north, no matter how unlikely, there will inevitably be those who chide the decision as a backward step by Sir Alex and a hindrance to some of the Scot’s younger starlets. It is a genuine fear, not least given the departure of Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison since Scholes came out of retirement last January. Since then Pogba has proven to be a hit in Turin with Juventus, while Morrison is undergoing a revival at Birmingham City. Lampard’s acquisition, should it come to pass, will doubtless give rise to similar fears.

Yet, there is perhaps a prescient transfer in Italy on which Ferguson may draw inspiration. In summer 2011 AC Milan allowed ageing midfielder Andrea Pirlo to leave on a free transfer to rivals Juventus. The Italian playmaker inspired his new club to a resounding victory in the Serie A title race and starred at Euro 2012. Chelsea will be hope that they aren’t rueing a similar situation at the end of next season.

Preview: Chelsea v United (COC)

October 31, 2012 Tags: , Matches 100 comments

Like London buses incidents of racism appear to come in threes in English football; a trio of shocking accusations that have left the beautiful game with a festering wound. When Manchester United visits Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, for the second in a league and cup double-header this week it is, once again, the most unsavoury side of the game that will dominate the headlines. It should not be this way; a game no longer at one with itself.

First, a little over a year ago, Luis Suarez racially abused Patrice Evra, repeatedly and with malice. Shortly after, John Terry called Anton Ferdinand a “f*cking black c*nt” – a crime for which the Chelsea captain is serving a far too lenient ban.

In the latest dark moment for the game referee Mark Clattenburg stands accused of racially abusing two Chelsea players – John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata. While nothing is yet proven of Clattenburg’s actions last Sunday, briefing and counter briefing through the mass media has done little to clarify the picture of an alleged incident that may yet have major ramifications for the game.

The episode, taken together with Chelsea’s perceived injustices during the Premier League encounter on Sunday – Fernando Torres’ red card, Javier Hernández’ winning goal – means there will be a feisty atmosphere for what might otherwise have been a tepid affair. Whatever the merits of the Capital One Cup, Wednesday’s tie was always going to feel like the morning after the Lord Mayor’s show. No longer so.

Still, there is a game on and United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to field a fringe side for the fourth round tie in west London. Out go United’s old guard, including Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick; in come a host of youngsters and squad players in need of playing time.

Chelsea v Manchester United - Capital One Cup, Stamford Bridge - 31 October 2012, 7.45pmIndeed, Ferguson is likely to make at least 10 changes from the side that started at the Bridge on Sunday, although winning goalscorer Hernández could start alongside Danny Welbeck in attack. Into the side may also come defenders Alexander Büttner, Michael Keane, and Scott Wootton, together with Nani, Anderson and Anders Lindegaard.

“Obviously we will make changes for the Wednesday game,” confirmed Ferguson, with United seeking consecutive wins at Stamford Bridge for the first time since 1998.

“The squad that played against Newcastle will be in place again. You don’t want to lose down there and we want to continue in the cup. Any game down there is going to be tough. There has been good progress there since Roberto di Matteo took the job. They are big games – and big games are good for us.”

However, the game will come too soon for defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, although each is nearing a return that will bring to a close a defensive headache that has seemingly overshadowed Ferguson’s squad since August. Captain Nemanja Vidić is likely to be on the sidelines until December at a minimum.

“We will try to push Chris on quickly,” added Ferguson of the 22-year-old centre back.

“I don’t think he will make Wednesday’s game but I am sure he will be ready for the following week. There was some hope both he and Phil would be back for this busy schedule. Phil will be starting football training next Monday. He still has some running to do. The good news is they are not far away.”

Smalling’s loss is potentially others gain, with at least one of Wootton or Keane likely to start at Stamford Bridge. Keane impressed with a classy performance against Newcastle United at Old Trafford in the third round, although as the senior party Wootton is more likely to start.

Still, Keane is relishing the opportunity to be part of United’s party travelling south once again this week. The Stockport-born youngster is United’s current Reserve Team Player of the Year.

“You play games with more pressure when you get to a higher level,” the 19-year-old told MUTV.

“Every game you play, you’ve got more experience of playing for points and playing because it means something rather than just friendlies. When you get called into the first team, you’re used to being desperate to win.

“I was so tired [after the Newcastle tie]. I’ve never been that tired after a game. Mentally as well as physically because of the concentration, how the day went building up to it and then the 90 minutes was tough but we did well.

“I know there’s probably only going to be one or two opportunities because of the players involved but I can’t think like that. I’ve just got to work hard every day in training and prove I’m good enough to play and, hopefully, get picked. I keep stepping up a level and, hopefully, that will keep happening and I can progress with England and keep getting my chances here in the first team.”

Meanwhile, Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo is likely to rest those most closely involved in the post-match argument with Clattenburg, including the alleged victims of on-the-field abuse, Mikel and Mata.

The west London club this week made a formal complaint that the Geordie referee used “inappropriate language” on the field, while briefing the press that words of a racist nature were uttered by Clattenburg. It is likely to be another long-running and highly damaging saga.

On the pitch Di Matteo is without a host of first-team regulars through injury and suspension, meaning a much changed Chelsea side is likely to be deployed for United’s visit.

“It is certainly a tricky situation,” said the 42-year-old Italian.

“We have Branislav Ivanovic, Fernando Torres and John Terry suspended, and Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole out injured. Ashley’s ankle is sore and swollen and he won’t recover in time for tomorrow. So it reduces the squad but everybody else is okay. We always talk about developing and giving youngsters a chance so this type of game is a good opportunity for some of them.”

It is a strategy, for one match at least, mirrored by the visitors. In that there is hope for the future. If not the game itself, then of the respective clubs at least.

Match Details
Chelsea v Manchester United – Capital One Cup, Stamford Bridge – Wednesday 31 October 2012, 7.45pm

Possible teams
Chelsea (4-4-2): Hilário; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Bertrand; Marin, Ramires, Romeu, Moses; Sturridge, Piazón. Subs from: Turnbull, Ferreira, Mikel, Oscar, Mata, Hazard, Torres, Malouda, Feruz.

United (4-3-3): Lindegaard; Keane, Wootton, Evans, Buttner; Anderson, Cleverley, Fletcher; Nani, Hernández, Welbeck. Subs from: Johnstone, De Gea, Cole, Lingard, Vermijl, Rafael, Valencia, Giggs, Young, Powell, Macheda, King, Henríquez.

Referee: L Mason
Assistant referees: J Collin and J Brooks
Fourth Official: M Dean

Chelsea: WWWWLL
United: WLWWWW

Head to Head
Last 10: United 6, Chelsea 2, Draw 2
Overall: United 79, Chelsea 41, Draw 48


Reds’ slice of luck Bridges a decade of ill fortune

October 29, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 37 comments

It has been a decade since Manchester United last won at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League – a 3-0 win in April 2002, with Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scoring the goals. During the intervening years Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, and many others, ran foul of officialdom in west London. The Stamford Bridge crowd may be as plastic as it comes, but Roman Abramovich has rarely had cause to complain about a referee’s performance when United comes to town.

Amusing then that such a storm should brew after Ferguson’s men benefited from marginal calls at the Bridge to secure three vital points in a dramatic fixture on Sunday afternoon. United won 3-2 following Javier Hernández’ late winner, but the scoreline tells just part of the story in which the Reds very nearly threw away a two goal lead.

But the game, as is now customary in the Premier League, almost becomes a secondary consideration amid the “narratives related to it, a screen on which to project neuroses and prejudice,” as one writer put it.

Fernando Torres’ yellow card for ‘diving’ under Jonny Evans’ challenge, and Hernandez’ marginally offside winner could have gone either way. But Chelsea’s manager Roberto Di Matteo can have no complaints about Branislav Ivanovic’s red for taking out Ashley Young, nor the fortune that saw Torres’ get away with a wildly dangerous chest-high challenge on Tom Cleverley just after half-time.

“Surely, when he’s going to watch the images he’s going to realise that he made big mistakes,” said Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo of referee Mark Clattenburg’s performance.

“It is a shame a game like this had to be decided in that manner by officials. It always seems to be in favour of the opposition.”

The final comment, one presumes, was appended without hint of irony from the 42-year-old Italian. But west London complaints aside, United’s third win of the week brings a substantial boost to those at Old Trafford. Yet another defeat at Stamford Bridge would have left the Reds seven behind Chelsea, and three behind Manchester City, with a quarter of the season complete.

As it stands there is now but a point between the country’s three leading teams, with United hosting Arsenal at Old Trafford in the Premier League next weekend. None of the three is faultless though, leading to the conclusion that there will be more than one twist in the months to come.

Still, United will pay little attention to Chelsea’s cries of foul; not with a title to claw back from Eastlands.

“We don’t care. We win, we have the three points,” added Hernández of the ‘controversial’ win.

“That was the only thing we had on our mind. Probably for some people it was very controversial, for other people not. For us, we won the three points and it is very difficult to come here to Stamford Bridge and take the three points, and we’re very lucky and happy with that.”

But Ferguson will once again be concerned with United’s defending at the Bridge, especially given the extent to which his men crumbled under Chelsea’s pressure either side of half-time. So open was the Reds’ central midfield all afternoon that at one point Ferguson ended the pretense altogether and paired Carrick with Wayne Rooney.

No combination it seems offers Ferguson’s back-four any protection, with United having conceded twice for the third time in seven days. Indeed, the Reds have shipped 13 in nine Premier League matches do date. Liverpool, in 12th, has conceded 14.

It is tempting to suggest that United’s fortune, such as it was at Stamford Bridge, will not hold indefinitely, while Ferguson’s side will certainly persist in conceding goals unless something changes. Whether the Reds’ adaptation is tactical, technical, or in personnel – whatever the solution to United’s faults it is a truism that the most successful sides rarely concede at will.

Ferguson suffered a similar dilemma last season after City ran riot at Old Trafford. United tightened up and went on a run of narrow victories that set the stage for a more closely run title race that many believed possible. This season, United’s open play has brought far more entertainment, but the genuine question on offer is whether Ferguson believes the attack-at-all-costs policy is one that can bring the title back to Old Trafford next May.

For now, the Scot will enjoy a rare victory in Abramovich’s lair. After all, it comes for too infrequently for comfort. In 26 visits to the Bridge, Ferguson’s side has emerged victorious on just seven occasions, including Sunday.

The victory also reward for Ferguson’s bold team selection and attacking philosophy – one which has not always been prevalent in United’s biggest matches over the past two years.

“It’s 10 years since we won here [in the Premier League],” Sir Alex told Sky Sports in the aftermath.

“I said before the game that we’ve had some shocking decisions down here. It’s very difficult to come here and get all the decisions as it’s a very difficult place. The sending off of the right-back was the turning point for us. I think we would have won it from that point. I put Chicharito on and he got the winning goal as I think the momentum was with us then.”

Five victories on the spin since Tottenham Hotspur won at Old Trafford in September, no matter the defensive record,  is another kind of momentum too. With qualification from the Champions League almost ensured, Ferguson’s men have little distraction this side of Christmas, and a series of eminently winnable games before the derby with City on 9 December.

That match will, of course, be another genuine test, and United supporters will be grateful for another modicum of good fortune in just over five week’s time.

Preview: Chelsea v United

October 27, 2012 Tags: , Matches 134 comments

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.

Chelsea v Manchester United – Premier League, Stamford Bridge – Sunday 29 October 2012, 4pmIndeed, 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.

Match Details
Chelsea v Manchester United – Premier League, Stamford Bridge – Sunday 29 October 2012, 4pm

Possible teams
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

Chelsea: WWWWWL
United: WWLWWW

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


Stunning comeback masks opportunity lost

February 5, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 30 comments

For Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas Sunday’s draw with Manchester United must feel like a crushing defeat. The hosts, three goals to the good 10 minutes into the second half, were cruising to victory only for United’s stunning comeback to be completed by Javier Hernández with seven minutes to go. The high in visitors’ dressing room, by contrast to Chelsea’s, will take some time to die down. Yet, come the first training session at Carrington this week, Sir Alex Ferguson will have cause to rue an opportunity lost. Make no mistake, Chelsea was ripe for the taking at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. In the common vernacular: this was two points dropped.

Indeed, with key Chelsea defenders John Terry and Ashley Cole absent, together with Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young returning for the visitors, Ferguson’s side must surely have felt confident, despite a 10-year streak without beating the Londoners at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League. As it turned out, Ferguson’s outfit was, perhaps, too confident.

True to Ferguson’s preferred script United controlled much of the first half, repeating the impressive possession game displayed both at Anfield last weekend, and against Stoke City on Tuesday night. Yet, with Villas-Boas’ side struggling to find any rhythm United was unable to translate territorial advantage into goals. Not unlike the previous two fixtures, United wielded a cutting edge that was decidedly blunt.

The visitors were to pay a heavy price for profligacy, after first Jonny Evans scored an unfortunate own goal, 10 minutes before half-time, then Chelsea struck twice more five minutes after the break. But no Ferguson side has ever been prone to throwing in the towel, even from a position seemingly beyond the bounds of possibility.

Even so, even by comparison to some great United comebacks, this was a resurgence rarely superseded in Ferguson’s 25 years at Old Trafford. It may have taken two disputed penalties to fire the Reds’ back into the game, but the verve with which Ferguson’s side attacked at 3-0 down compares to anything United has produced this season.

Yet, Ferguson is rarely one to celebrate a point gained, especially with a gap to Manchester City having now developed a lead at the head of the Premier League.

“The two penalties in the second half were justified. I think we could have had four in the game,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“They should’ve had a man sent off. Danny Welbeck’s clear through, brought down, but nothing, no decision. The linesman has given two penalties against as at Old Trafford in the last two years, one against Arsenal and one against Liverpool. 45 yards away and he gave them. I don’t blame Howard Webb, I blame the assistant. There was a pull on Ashley Young, inside the box, in front of the linesman and he doesn’t give it. Yet he gives them at Old Trafford.

“It’s two points dropped. We played so well, apart from the 10 minutes straight after halftime where we got off to a terrible start and lost two goals in five minutes. But, it’s not easy to come back from two goals down. That is a massive effort from our players. I thought we were the far better team. Once we got over those 10 minutes I thought we played very well. It was a massive effort from the team, and a great game. For a neutral watching that game it was fantastic.”

Ever the gambler, Ferguson threw on Mexican striker Hernández for Young with 35 minutes to go, pushing Danny Welbeck wide in the process. By the time Paul Scholes replaced Rafael da Silva just past the hour, United was attacking with six players. It was the same caution-to-the-wind attitude that had brought a thumping at home to Old Trafford earlier this season.

“We had to gamble. To be honest with you I perhaps should have played Chicharito from the start as when he came on he had the Chelsea defence under pressure with his movement and positional play,” added Ferguson. “Danny [Welbeck] was terrific and is going to be a top player but when Chicharito came on in the second half, it was a different game.”

Yet, the Scot was seen gesticulating from the sidelines as the Reds played out the final seven minutes plus injury time having seemingly retreated into a shell. Fergie had not rolled the dice only to see snake eyes comes up.

It could have been worse though, with Chelsea creating the better chances with five minutes to go. Indeed, the visitors were grateful to the much-maligned goalkeeper David de Gea for two outstanding saves late in the game.

“The save [by De Gea] from Mata’s free-kick was unbelievable. There were two or three other saves as well,” added Sir Alex.

“He’s played his part and I’m pleased as we can see the talent in the boy. In three or four years’ time we are going to see all of that but at the moment he’s made one or two mistakes but the introduction has been difficult for him. It’s not what he was used to in Spain. Today he showed that he is ready to get amongst it. He’s done a great job today.”

Ultimately though it was left to Rooney to sum up a match in which all could have been lost, yet, by its conclusion there was so much more to gain. The returning United striker’s movement, together with two well-struck penalties, were far too much for Chelsea’s makeshift back-four on a day in which United could have run up a cricket score.

“It’s two points lost,” Rooney told Sky Sports.

“We understand that, but after being 3-0 down – the City players at home must have liked that – we enjoyed the way we fought back. A lot of teams might have put their heads down and accepted defeat, but we never put our heads down, we carried on, worked hard and, thankfully, got something out of the game. We knew if we got one goal back there was enough time to gain something out of the game, so we dug in.”

Rooney called it a point that could “win United the title.” Yet, United face Liverpool at Old Trafford next Saturday, with away matches at Norwich City and then Tottenham Hotspur to follow a double-header with Ajax. It is a pivotal series of games, with City, by contrast, facing four winnable Premier League matches before hosting Chelsea on 19 March.

There’s no question, this was an outstanding fight-back, but come Monday morning Ferguson will understand that the Reds can afford to drop few points now. As the old cliché goes, it was a point gained; double the total lost.

Quartet return to boost Reds at Chelsea

February 4, 2012 Tags: , Matches 156 comments

Manchester United heads to London this weekend seeking to overturn a decade-long winless streak at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League. Although Sir Alex Ferguson’s men comfortably beat the Londoners in the Champions League last season, United hasn’t emerged victorious over Chelsea on the road, domestically, since 2001. With Manchester City moving three points ahead in the Premier League title race on Saturday night, Ferguson is desperate to turn the series of poor results around.

The Scot will have no better chance, with Ferguson welcoming back a quartet of injured stars into the United squad. While Wayne Rooney makes his expected comeback, wingers Nani and Ashley Young provide welcome, if surprising, additions to the United party travelling south.

Not before time, supporters might add, with the Reds facing a tough run of games before the spring. United’s visit to Chelsea is followed by games with Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and the double-header against Ajax in the coming weeks.

“We’ve done very well away from home this season and we need to be good from now on,” Ferguson told Inside United.

“We’ve got some really important away games in the run-in – Chelsea, Tottenham and Man City. They’re going to be crucial games. Games at Chelsea in the last few years have been tough and we’ve had terrible luck there which has caused us disappointing results. The players know what they need to do. They know their responsibilities and the standard and expectation at the club, and they have to carry those things with them when they go into games.”

Injuries have provided a consistent backdrop to the season, with up to 11 stars sat out of matches in recent weeks. Indeed, long-term casualties Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidić will not play again this season, but Ferguson is close to bringing midfielder Tom Cleverley back into the fold.

Chelsea verus Manchester United, Premier League, Stamford Bridge, 5 February 2012, 4pm.But it is the defensive unit that the Scot will be most satisfied with. While Fábio da Silva remains on the sidelines, brother Rafael will compete with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones for a slot at right-back in Ferguson’s side. Indeed, with Rio Ferdinand fit, Ferguson can boast more defensive options than at almost any point this season.

“We’re a bit better in terms of injuries,” Ferguson confirmed on Friday.

“We hope Wayne Rooney, Nani, Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young will all be in the squad. It’s more likely Tom will play against Chelsea Reserves on Monday, but he’ll travel. Rooney and Nani have trained for the last two days.

“When Ashley got his injury at Fulham it was just at a point when his game was starting to shade a little bit because his early form was fantastic and we were really pleased with him. But there was just a couple of games before his injury when it looked as if we were ready to give him a break anyway. It was an enforced one and he is really fresh now. His training performances for the last two weeks have been really good.

“It is good to have players back because we have, in fairness to the players who have been carrying the burden of limited resources, done fantastically well. The only pressure when you get your full squad is on me picking the team now. That is the biggest pressure when you get them all back, who do you play and who do you leave out? It is not going to be easy.”

Much criticised goalkeeper David de Gea is likely to return between the posts after overcoming a heavy cold. Dane Anders Lindegaard is set to miss six weeks after turning his ankle in training, meaning an extended run in the side for young Spaniard de Gea. And Ferguson this week hit back at critics of the 21-year-old stopper, who was singled-out by some pundits for his part in Liverpool’s opening goal last weekend.

“When you make a mistake at United, it is highlighted and can be exaggerated a little bit,” said Ferguson.

“They are mistakes and he wants to address it himself. He will do so through maturity and the understanding of the English game. That is not easy. It is harder when you are replacing Edwin van der Sar and Peter Schmeichel. They are probably two of the greatest goalkeepers in European football over the last 40 years. I found it difficult to replace them. That’s why we went for a young replacement, who would develop and mature into the position because the potential is there.”

For the second time in a week United’s game will be played amid the backdrop of racism. United, and especially Patrice Evra, faced a partizan Anfield crowd in the FA Cup last weekend following Luis Suárez’ racial abuse of the United defender. Meanwhile, at Stamford Bridge, much of the pre-match talk has centered on John Terry, the Chelsea captain now stripped of a similar honour with England. Terry will face a July court date after being accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.

However, with Terry still on the sidelines through injury, Anton’s brother Rio will not have to face the dubious prospect of shaking Terry’s hand pre-match – a diplomatic incident few bar those in the fourth estate would enjoy. Terry’s absence almost certainly means a début for England defender Gary Cahill, signed from Bolton Wanderers for £7 million during the winter transfer window.

Left-back Ashley Cole also misses out after being dismissed against Swansea in midweek, while Didier Drogba is still away at the Africa Cup of Nations. Manager Jose Villas-Boas will choose between Frank Lampard and the returning Michael Essien in midfield.

Despite the high-profile absentees Chelsea has history on side for this particular fixture. The Londoners are unbeaten in the last nine home league games against United, since a 3-0 defeat nearly ten years ago. Although Ferguson’s side has rarely enjoyed the rub of the green in that time, the Scot’s side has scored only three times in the past eight matches at Stamford Bridge.

United did, of course, emerge victorious in last season’s Champions League quarter-final, with Rooney scoring the only goal of the match.

However, Ferguson’s side boasts the best away record of any top-flight side – a remarkable turnaround from last season’s tortuous form on the road. And in Antonio Valencia Ferguson will also call on the league’s most in-form player. The Ecuadorian winger has provided nine assists in as many games.

Yet, it will still take a significant improvement in United’s form to close the gap on City this weekend. Following last weekend’s FA Cup loss to Liverpool, United beat Stoke City in midweek. That may have been a routine victory on paper, but the 2-0 win came after the Reds’ managed just two strikes on target – both penalties.

Match details
Chelsea verus Manchester United, Premier League, Stamford Bridge, 5 February 2012, 4pm.

Potential Line-ups
Chelsea: (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Bosingwa; Romeu, Meireles, Lampard; Mata, Torres, Sturridge. Subs from: Turnbull, Essien, Malouda, Ferreira, Piazon, Lukaku.

United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Nani; Rooney, Welbeck. Subs from: Amos, Kuszazck, Rafael, Jones, Fryers, Cole, Giggs, Park, Pogba, Hernández, Berbatov.

Performance Stats

  • Chelsea could only take a point away from the side’s last Premier League game against Swansea City. Jose Bosingwa’s shot was going off target before Joe Allen deflected it in for Chelsea to equalise;
  • Juan Mata covered the most ground for Chelsea in that game with 6.58 miles
  • Bosingwa has won 72 per cent of tackles attempted this season, has made 44 interceptions, and delivered 47 crosses, while making three assists;
  • Chelsea striker Fernando Torres may be struggling in front of goal, but his work rate is paying dividends for the team. The striker has attempted 38 tackles so far this season, the seventh highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • United scored two penalties to beat Stoke 2-0 on Tuesday night, with Michael Carrick coveringt he most ground – 6.65 miles – for the Reds in the game;
  • Javier Hernández and Dimitar Berbatov each scored their seventh goals of the season from the spot after fouls on Ji Sung Park and Valencia;
  • Berbatov’s goals have come from 14 attempts at goal, while Hernandez’ have come from 27 attempts;
  • Park covered 6.36 miles in the game, behind only top runner Michael Carrick. Park has two goals and three assists to his name this season, and has also completed a pass in his opponent’s half every three minutes 40 seconds.

Chelsea: WWWDWD
United: LWWWLW

Referee: Howard Webb (Rotherham)
Assistants: D Cann, M McDonough
Fourth Official: P Dowd

Reds to capitalise on Chelsea blues

September 18, 2011 Tags: , Matches 138 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson reports no fresh injury concerns ahead of Manchester United’s fixture with Chelsea to Old Trafford this Sunday, in a match billed both as a clash of generations and a marker for the new season. Now in his 26th year at Old Trafford, 69-year-old Ferguson stands in marked contrast to his callow opposite number, André Villas-Boas, the 33-year-old Portuguese who won the treble with Porto last season. Yet, each is desperate to gain early ground in the Premier League title race.

Aside from from the clash of personalities the fixture will serve as a barometer for Chelsea’s challenge this season. In contrast to swashbuckling United performances in the Premier League, Chelsea’s pedestrian start – despite four wins in five – has brought both media and internal criticism, with striker Fernando Torres complaining of his team-mates’ sedentary pace. Hardly surprising given the ageing nature of Chelsea’s squad and the frustration that the 27-year-old Torres must feel. One goal in 22 for his new club gives the Spaniard little ammunition for criticism though.

But, says Ferguson, despite the ageing legs and in-fighting at the west London outfit, Chelsea will pose a significant threat to The Reds’ title ambitions this season. Indeed, Chelsea is the only side to boast a positive head-to-head record against United in the Premier League era.

“It will be a fantastic game,” Ferguson told reporters on Friday.

“The games with Chelsea over the last seven years have been very close affairs. There’s usually only one goal in it and I think it will be tight again on Sunday. They’re a team with great experience and they’ll pose a challenge to us. Chelsea will be there at the end of the season. There’s no doubt about that.”

With United having beaten Chelsea three times last season the Reds start as favourites at Old Trafford but it is the contrast with the Premier League’s youngest manager that fascinates. Indeed, Ferguson drew parallels with his own start at United, having been successful at a young age in Scotland. The difference, of course, being that the young Ferguson had more than a decade in management before signing on at Old Trafford.

“It’s similar to when I came from Aberdeen, I’d achieved something,” added Ferguson, who won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with The Scottish club and broke the Auld Firm duopoly.

“André Villas-Boas won the Double last year so that’s a help. That stands him in good stead in terms of the start of his tenure at Chelsea. After that, the impression that the players get from him in terms of his knowledge of the game and man-management skills, that’s all in the future. The new coach has started very well. It’s a hard challenge at his age but he’s acquitted himself very well and his team have responded, which is what you hope for as a new manager at a club.”

Manchester United v Chelsea, Premier League, Old Trafford, 4pm 18 September 2011Ferguson will be able to call on an almost fully fit squad for the tie, save for injured quartet Rafael da Silva, Nemanja Vidic, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley. The latter pair is a significant loss, with the youngsters having started the season in such exhilarating fashion. Cleverley is likely to miss the next three weeks but Welbeck is well ahead of schedule and has begun training with the first team once again. The injuries should mean both Javer Hernández and Michael Carrick start at Old Trafford on Sunday.

“We came through the Benfica game without any injuries,” added Sir Alex.

“We have a full squad for Sunday. They’re all giving me headaches. Darren Fletcher, Ji-sung Park, Antonio Valencia, they’ve not been involved because the team have been playing so well. I’ve decided not to tinker with that. But now we come to the time of the season where we need our squad – we’ve got European games, Carling Cup etc. Danny Welbeck’s back training now. He could maybe be ready for the following week [at Stoke].”

In Cleverley’s stead the oft-criticised Carrick will start his first Premier League game of the season. The 30-year-old Geordie is likely to be paired with a rejuvenated Anderson, who is enjoying his best start to a campaign after four years at Old Trafford.

The creative burden, from central areas at least, is again likely to fall on Rooney, who will resume his partnership with Hernández at Old Trafford after the Mexican sat out United’s bore draw with Benfica on Wednesday night. Rooney’s stunning early season form has brought 10 goals in six games for club and country, including successive hat-tricks. Should the England forward score twice against Chelsea he will become the first player to reach double figures after five games of a Premier League season.

Rooney bills the tie with Chelsea as United’s biggest test of the season to date, after the Reds conjured up comfortable wins against Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.

“Obviously Arsenal are always difficult but with the injuries they had when they came to Old Trafford we were the favourites to win that one,” the striker told ManUtd.com

“The Chelsea game’s going to be difficult and we need to be at our best. They’ve got a few new players – I saw Daniel Sturridge started the last game and Juan Mata played as well. I’m sure they’ll have a few new ideas to go along with the new signings they have, but I’ sure we’ll be able to cope with that. This is going to be another big game and if we can win we’ll go five points clear of Chelsea and keep our winning run going at the start of the season.”

Meanwhile, Villas-Boas will be without striker Didier Drogba, who is still on the sidelines following an early season concussion. It is unlikely to save Torres’ place in the side with Nicolas Anelka set to start. Influential midfielder Michael Essien is unlikely to return before February with another serious knee injury.

Yet, Villas-Boas has attempted to play down the fixture’s importance in the season, despite the five point advantage that victory for United will bring.

“Our importance in the game is minimal. It’s for the players to exploit their talents and enjoy their game,” said the 33-year-old.

“We face Man United perhaps in their most tremendous moment of motivation and flair and style and a team that has made its impact at the beginning of the Premiership, different from last year. It provokes a good challenge and I think motivation will be the key factor in the game and hopefully (we can) come back from Old Trafford with a win.”

Chelsea has won five times at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, more often than any other team. Few expect the Londoners to repeat the feat on Sunday.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Chelsea, Premier League, Old Trafford, 4pm, 18 September 2011.

Likely Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): de Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Jones, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Evans, Giggs, Evans, Fletcher, Pogba, Park, Diouf, Owen, Berbatov.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Bosingwa, Luiz, Alex, Cole; Ramires, Meireles, Lampard; Mata, Anelka, Sturridge. Subs from: Hilario, Ferreira, Malouda, McEachran, Mikel, Kalou, Torres, Romeu

United: WWWWD
Chelsea: DWWWW

Referee: Phil Dowd (Slovenia)

Title 19 within touching distance; this one is Fergie’s triumph

May 10, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 49 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are now within a single point of a 19th domestic title after beating Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday. It was the fourth occasion the Reds have beaten Carlo Ancelotti’s Londoners this season, if any further proof was needed of the United’s superiority. If Chelsea’s players had talked up their title possibilities ahead of the match, then there was little doubt about the result just 36 seconds into the tie after Javier Hernández’ superb opener. Around two hours later and United had sealed the win that brings the Premier League title to within a draw at Blackburn Rovers next weekend.

Despite Chelsea’s late goal there never seemed any doubt about the result. United was everything Ferguson’s team had been missing against Arsenal last week; dynamic, energetic and inventive. It is if a switch is thrown whenever the Theatre of Dreams is in sight. Old Trafford’s Dr. Jekyll to the road’s Mr Hyde, to bastardise a popular novella.

In a season that threatened mediocrity at its outset United will achieve more than so many pundits – and let’s be honest, supporters – ever expected. Truly now greater than the sum of its parts, United will finish as Premier League champions with a very real chance of beating an, albeit superior, Barcelona side in a one-off showpiece final. It would be a remarkable double.

While the players must take credit for their part the real hero, as history must record, is Ferguson, who has dragged from his limited playing squad results that so few expected.

“Knowing the players they won’t muck it up,” said Ferguson after United’s victory on Sunday.

“They will get a point there’s no doubt about that. It’s fantastic to be the most successful team in the country. The minute we won that first title in 1992 the door opened, and we’ve been involved in the first two all throughout that period – it’s a fantastic achievement.

“For the last 17 or 18 years it’s been Arsenal and Chelsea as our nearest challengers, and the last few years it’s been Chelsea. Arsenal made a great attempt this year but them losing [at Stoke] has finalised it.

“It took time to get foundations of club right and after we got the first title we improved, improved and improved.”

Ferguson is right to crow, although in truth he has commanded far superior teams in his 25 years at Old Trafford. After all, while it is unfair to say the ‘least worst’ team has emerged victorious this season there is some truth to it. With United in transition and Chelsea ageing, Arsenal’s obstinate manager Arsène Wenger will surely look back on an opportunity lost. Money is available at the Emirates and the Frenchman’s decision not to spend it on a goalkeeper, central defender and experienced tough-tackling midfielder has cost his side dearly.

Rivals’ failure is United’s gain and Ferguson believes United is well served for the decade ahead. It promises to be an interesting summer, with fans once again wondering if the United manager will build from a position of strength. Ferguson is again minded to trust in youth.

“Over the last decade, we’ve worked upon bringing young talent into the club, like, Wayne Rooney, ‘Chicharito’, Anderson and Nani, and we’ve brought all these players,” added Ferguson.

“But that doesn’t dismiss the fact that we like to produce our own young players and I think there are several players in the present youth team who are doing really well.

“The likes of Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ravel Morrison, you see some of them doing very, very well, so we’re always going to put an emphasis on young players coming through from the youth team. That will always be the case.

“We’ve got some excellent young players of good ages, you know. Like, for instance, Chicharito, who is 22, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson, who are 23, and Chris Smalling who’s 21.

“So, yeah, we’ve got a good nucleus of young players in the club which gives you the foundation to be able to protect the future and know it’s going to be alright.”

The temptation is to dismiss Ferguson’s comments as a segue into another summer of investment in players who ‘retain a significant transfer value’; the club’s policy of only buying young players who can be sold at profit in the future. Indeed, this may well be the case although Ferguson will surely want to replace Edwin van der Sar, Owen Hargreaves, Michael Owen and Paul Scholes at a minimum.

However, winning the Premier League vindicates Ferguson’s summer transfer policy whatever happens in the Champions League final. This side has already over-achieved, with Hernández and Chris Smalling particularly successful. Meanwhile, Rafael da Silva has emerged as a genuinely classy right-back, with his brother arguably even more reliable in the position during the final weeks of the season. The less said about Bébé, the better for all concerned.

Ferguson will move on from title win 19 quickly though, looking to the next great challenge. And while United is stocked with some outstanding youngsters history dictates that only a fraction will make it at the club. United’s success, or failure, next season will again be determined by choices made during the summer.

With Manchester City and Chelsea set to throw cash at the problem, Wenger more recalcitrant than ever about his own transfer policy and Liverpool resurgent, title 20 will be harder than ever to achieve.

But that question is for another day. For now, Ferguson can rightly bask in the glory of his achievements.