It’s the big one, Manchester United at Old Trafford this Sunday, and without wanting to admit I’m just that little bit scared…sod it, I’m dreading the game. We’re out of form, out of sorts, some may say we’re out of ideas. Not the ideal time to visit a side which recently added a World Championship to last season’s Premier League and Champions League trophies, and were stung in mid-week by Championship side Derby in the League Cup semi-final first-leg. Ferguson is apparently still stewing over a lacklustre performance by his United side, and it appears as if we are the side to receive the overspill of his crimson red anger.
But then remember back to last season, the tail-end to be precise. We were chasing Manchester United in the league, and they possessed the superhuman Cristiano Ronaldo who in turn possessed the Midas touch. Everything he tried came off to great effect and when United came to Stamford Bridge at the end of April, we weren’t massive favourites to take three points. But a spirited display full of passion, guts and drive saw Chelsea run out 2-1 winners with Michael Ballack scoring both.
Fast-forward to May and the Luzhniki stadium. We weren’t at the races at the beginning of the Champions League final and conceded a cheap Ronaldo goal. But we galvanized, picked ourselves up, equalised and could realistically have added to it in the second-half. A sending-off and an untimely slip were our banes.
What I’m saying is that Chelsea-Manchester United is a cup final in its own right. An anomaly in terms of the form books, a complete metaphor for football as a sport which intrigues because of its unpredictability. We could lose badly, we could win emphatically; who can stand up and say that neither will definitely happen? Sure we’ve been underwhelming in the last few weeks, or months even, but perhaps the trip to Old Trafford is the catalyst we’ve been waiting for, the spark to ignite our true form. The side we possess now isn’t vastly different to that which came so close to winning in Luzhniki. Reasons to be frightened are suddenly disappearing.
We are likely to be without Alex and Florent Malouda while Michael Essien is still at least a month from full fitness. John Terry returns from a recent suspension to partner Ricardo Carvalho at the back. Scolari must make a decision in terms of the Anelka/Drogba debate while midfield and its occupants is also a contentious dilemma.
Alex Ferguson is without reserve goalkeeper Ben Foster, defender Wes Brown and holding player Owen Hargreaves, all of whom are definitely out. Rio Ferdinand is apparently a doubt with a back injury, but will in all certainty make a miraculous recovery to take the field on Sunday afternoon.
Two of our previous meetings have already been mentioned, while one must be glossed over quickly or it will ruin the tone of this piece. The last time we visited Old Trafford was in Avram Grant’s first game back in September 2007. We lost 2-0 with a debatable red card for us and a dodgy penalty for them. Fancy that. The 1-1 draw at the Bridge earlier this season is also a memory not worth bringing back up.
With Liverpool looking strong at the top of the league, both sides will be looking to catch Rafa Benitez’s side as quickly as possible. Defeat for us would most likely be the beginning of yet another crisis (and probably crash the Live Match Forum) while a win would put the world of Chelsea to rights again. With José Mourinho reportedly set to attend the game, in close proximity to Roman Abramovich in the directors box, the spectre of success looms upon us. The past can never return, but we can show we can still have a bright future. It begins at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.