Premier League | Stamford Bridge | Sun 19 Jan | 4pm
David Moyes’ big chance to prove United picked the right man.
As Manchester United slumped to their fifth home loss of the season earlier this month, against Swansea in the FA Cup, the club’s fans could have been forgiven for considering how Jose Mourinho – beaten just twice at home as Chelsea boss across two spells and not once in the league at Stamford Bridge in 70 games – would be faring in the Old Trafford hot seat right now.
- Hull 0-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Derby 0-2 Chelsea (FAC)
- So'ton 0-3 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-0 Swansea (Prem)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 2-0 Swansea (Prem)
- S'land 2-1 Man Utd (LC)
- Man Utd 1-2 Swansea (FAC)
- Man Utd 1-2 Spurs (Prem)
- Norwich 0-1 Man Utd (Prem)
But, of course, the bookies’ favourite to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson once he announced his imminent retirement back in May was never interested in the job, was he? "I would have turned down every job in the world – the Manchester United job, every one – for Chelsea," insisted the Portuguese after trading the Bernabeu for Stamford Bridge.
Many within the game believe otherwise – not least respected Spanish journalist Diego Torres, who in his recently published book claims Mourinho "sobbed loudly" down the phone when he learned that his "friend and godfather" Ferguson wanted Moyes as his successor (a claim Mourinho’s agent has since denied).
The fiery-eyed Scot may have arrived in Manchester at a time when United’s overachieving squad was finally starting to show its age, but it’s difficult to comprehend Mourinho making such a pig’s ear of his initial transfer dealings as Moyes did last summer. And it’s even harder to imagine Jose overseeing such a poor run of form at home.
Nevertheless, keeping hold of Wayne Rooney, openly courted by the returning Chelsea gaffer, proved a smart move by United, and with Robin van Persie still out injured, Moyes will be desperate for the England striker to have recovered from his groin injury in time for Sky’s Super Sunday showdown at SW6.
With Moyes having never got the better of Mourinho in nine attempts, the battle of the bosses provides an intriguing sub-plot to a fixture that is rarely short of drama on the pitch.
The three games between the sides at Stamford Bridge last season yielded 15 goals, Chelsea knocking United out of both domestic cups, following a feisty 3-2 league win for the visitors, in which referee Mark Clattenburg grabbed the biggest headlines after sending off two Chelsea players and allowing Javier Hernandez’s offside winner to stand. Clattenburg and John Obi Mikel will need no reminding of what happened next.
Chelsea’s home form this season (W9 D1 L0) suggests United might need a touch more fortune to take all three points this weekend, but last Saturday’s 2-0 league win against Swansea will have restored confidence, Antonio Valencia’s 47th-minute opener easing the nerves running through the team in the first half.
The man-of-the-match that day was undoubtedly Adnan Januzaj, and it says a lot about United’s stuttering season that an 18-year-old with just 21 senior appearances under his belt has risen from promising starlet to the Red Devils’ new saviour in a matter of weeks. Having started United’s last two league games, the versatile youngster should again feature against Chelsea, where he’ll come up against a side that’s won five games in a row in all competitions, conceding just one goal along the way.
Mourinho came in for some flak for starting without a recognised striker in the 0-0 borefest at Old Trafford last August, but he’ll surely be smelling blood back at his west London fortress.
Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic are both ruled out until the end of January, with muscle and knee injuries respectively. Ivanovic’s absence should see Ashley Cole start (as Cesar Azpilicueta switches to right-back). In defensive midfield, new £20.75 million signing Nemanja Matic could go straight in for his second Chelsea debut, ironically ahead of David Luiz – the man for whom the Serbian was a mere £3m makeweight for when Luiz signed from Benfica in 2011.
For United, Moyes packed Rooney and his achy groin off to Egypt for some warm-weather training this week, although the trip to SW6 might just be a few days too soon for him. Van Persie is back in full training following a month out with a thigh problem, but again is unlikely to return at the Bridge.
Player to watch: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Right now, it’s hard to see anyone stopping Luis Suarez from scooping up all the end of season gongs – assuming another lengthy suspension isn’t around the corner, naturally – but if Hazard can continue his recent form he could yet push the Uruguayan close. The tricky Belgian’s superb goal at Hull last weekend, cutting across the area before selling Alex Bruce a dummy to score, capped a man-of-the-match display – his third in a row, according to his man who picks the side. "Let's see if the Barclays Premier League decides to give Eden player of the month," said Mourinho this week. "The kid is waiting, but the trophy is not arriving." Hold your horses, Jose, there are still two weeks left in January.
As vital as Hazard’s goals are – he’s the Blues' top scorer this term with 11 in all competitions – it’s his increased work-rate and all-round creativity that has really caught the eye. In the win at the KC he completed the highest number of take-ons (4) as well as passes in the attacking third (23). Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling, take note.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 0-0 Chelsea (Prem, Aug 13)
- United 0-1 Chelsea (Prem, May 13)
- Chelsea 1-0 United (FAC, Apr 13)
- United 2-2 Chelsea (FAC, Mar 13)
- Chelsea e5-4 United (LC, Oct 12)
Mourinho may secretly chuckle to himself at Moyes’ trophy count, but on the surface there’s much respect between the two. "The United players trust David and David trusts them," said Mourinho this week.
"They are all together and are going to rebuild a big team. The bad results will finish – although it is probably too late to win the league because they’re too many points behind the leader."
Moyes himself has admitted he’d have had no bitterness if Mourinho had beaten him to the United job, saying earlier this season: "Of all the young, modern managers – if you want to put it that way – Jose was probably the best. So he would quite rightly be entitled to attracting the top jobs."
Regularly reminded of his inability to beat the top sides while Everton boss, Moyes has only a solitary win – at home to Arsenal – to show from seven games against last season’s ‘big seven’ (W1 D2 L4). But what better way to finally put that ‘big-game bottler’ tag to bed than by ending Jose’s remarkable home run in the league?
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Man United have failed to score in their last 3 games against Chelsea in all competitions.
- Robin van Persie has scored more goals at Stamford Bridge than any other visiting player in Premier League history (6).
- Javier Hernandez has scored in 6 of his last 9 appearances in all competitions against Chelsea.
- Chelsea have had Over 2.5 goals in their last 5 home matches against top-half teams.
- There have been 5 penalties awarded in the last 4 meetings between these two sides at Stamford Bridge.
- Man United have won 5 and lost 0 of their last 7 Premier League away games (D2).
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Not this time, Moyesy. If Rooney had been fit, United to sneak a draw. But without him, it’s another glum day for the Scot. 2-1.