United are in town and has there ever been a more optimistic feeling that the blues are going to well and truly turn them over. A Chelsea win gives a 12 point lead over the champions and surely ends any lingering possibility that they will be finishing above Sunday’s hosts this season. The omens look incredibly positive, with Moyes’ record away against ‘the big 4′, Mourinho’s record at home to United and generally Chelsea having beaten the visitors more times in the Premiership than any other participant. Ferguson’s men usually required the support of the match officials to leave SW6 with any sort of result so his predecessor really does have his hands full.
With the confirmed absence of Van Persie and Rooney, Moyes’ selection should be interesting. Such significant striking absentees will surely mean that Welbeck will operate the lone CF role whilst he is in such a rich vein of scoring. United looked much more assured against Swansea with Fletcher back in the middle. Being away from home in such a big match will mean that they are paired together again with Kagawa providing the much needed support for Welbeck. It would be difficult to imagine 12 months ago that United’s brightest and most likely source would be an 18 year old Belgian winger. Januzaj is undoubtedly a real talent and is just about the only player worth the entrance fee at Old Trafford at the minute. This is testament to the decline that has beset a club, so dominant before, finishing eleven points clear last May.
Chelsea are on a run of five straight victories in which they have conceded only one goal. Hazard is beginning to tear the league up and Mourinho is at his imperious best in the media – all of this with Fernando Torres up front. Since the stuttering and grinding performances around Christmas, the blues have added real guile to their play and the way that Southampton were took apart on New Years Day was particularly impressive. The strongest area for Chelsea is the three attacking midfielders behind Torres and this, in the defensive midfield department, is where United are weakest. Moyes will be aware of this and Fletcher and Carrick will be well drilled and no doubt sitting deep for much of the opening exchanges.
In terms of the line-up’s I think there is one decision to be made for the home side. I would be less surprised to see Mikel start ahead of David Luiz for obvious reasons in a match like this, but it would be a real signal of intent if the boss went for the latter. So often is the case in a game like this that ball retention in the middle is key and the enigmatic Brazilian’s squash-buckling approach might be a little too much for Mourinho’s stress levels to handle. Ramires alongside whoever is picked makes the decision an easier one, as his more disciplined style will be needed to track Kagawa.
I cannot foresee anything other than a home victory. The only potential stumbling block is the usual one with Chelsea at the minute and that is the quality of the strikers at their disposal. Then again, Fernando got one with his left foot last Saturday. Good game or bad game, Chelsea versus United is always an absorbing contest. I do not recall ever being as angry about a football match as I was the last time the two met in the league at the bridge, so hopefully tomorrow can banish a few unwanted memories of emotion.