On the face of it United’s visit to Stamford Bridge is one of the most daunting in recent years. With Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit leaking goals and Chelsea scoring freely, many pundits are backing Carlo Ancelotti’s team to take the honours and with it a healthy Premier League points advantage. But with the chips down, it is just the kind of scenario Ferguson relishes.
United travel to the capital without vice-Captain Rio Ferdinand who, back-injury permitting, will not play for the club until December. In the England-defender’s stead Jonny Evans will once again slot into the back four, alongside the returning Nemanja Vidic. It’s an area – United’s principal strength just a few short months ago – that Ferguson is justifiable concerned about.
But Ferguson is not yet ready to countenance the tie as a potential Premier League title decider, coming as it does just a third of the way into the season. Indeed, if the Scot’s team wins on Sunday, United will return to the top of the table. A feat that United has achieved just once in the last 10 visits to West London.
“Our players realise it’s a big game and that our performance at Chelsea is really important,” said Ferguson of Sunday’s match.
“We used to have a terrific record there up until a few years ago, but we’ve let that slip. There’s no point in looking back. We just have to look at our present squad and what they’re capable of.
“They’re capable of winning the game, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. It’s not going to be an easy game for either team.”
With United having narrowly beaten Arsenal at Old Trafford in August but lost at Anfield a fortnight ago, Ferguson is aware that the points spread among the leading contenders will decide the Premier League title.
“These games between the top four could be really important in the context of the title race,” Ferguson added
“It doesn’t come into my thinking that Sunday’s game is a league decider. But it could certainly be a really important one.
“Towards the end of the season you could be thinking ‘I’m glad we got a result at Chelsea’ in relation to where you are in the league.”
But United will need to perform better than in previous games against the so-called big-four if the team is to take the points Sunday.
Much will depend on the tactical system Ferguson chooses to deploy. The manager could throw the die and go for broke by deploying Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in a 4-4-2 formation.
However, the manager’s respect for his counterpart Ancelotti, who has beaten the Scot in three of their four previous meetings, dictates that the young Scouser is likely to plough a lonely furrow up front.
“Ancelotti was a great coach at AC Milan and he has brought a wealth of experience with him to Chelsea,” Ferguson said of the Italian.
“He’s won the European Cup twice and was also a great player. I thought he’d do well. He has a very experienced team and, when you have that, it’s maybe easier to adapt to new tactics or a new system.”
Sunday’s match will do much to show how far Ancelotti’s team has progressed this season. United, as always, might just have to risk all to come away with the points.