Chelsea vs Manchester United | Saturday 18 April | Stamford Bridge | 18:30
League leaders Chelsea welcome high-flying Manchester United to Stamford Bridge on Saturday in what looks to be a cracking contest. The Blues haven’t been at their majestic best recently and there seems to be a careworn look to them at present. They’ll be happy to be playing at home where they remain the only team in the league yet to lose on their turf. However, the mood in the United squad is buoyant following their extraordinary 4-2 thrashing of rivals Manchester City last weekend. The Red Devils will firmly believe they can be the first team to win at Stamford Bridge but it’s the Blues who boast a better head-to-head record against United in recent times – unbeaten in their last seven meetings with four victories. It always is an epic encounter when these two teams battle each other and we should be in for another thrilling matchup. A last-minute Robin van Persie equaliser helped United earn a point against Chelsea earlier in the season at Old Trafford.
To Win (90mins)
Manchester United 28/10
Chelsea's form has been patchy of late; they have certainly not been playing with the pomp and swagger of champions elect. Their last outing against QPR was not one that will go down in the annals of history as one of the great title-winning performances, but the 1-0 victory earned the same amount of points as that of an absolute thrashing. That is the mark of champions, when you can win games without being anywhere near your best. Criticising a team that has lost just two games all season and currently commands a seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League table, with a game hand, may appear to be searching for cracks in Chelsea’s armour for the sake of argument. The Blues are just four wins away from securing the Premier League title, although it might not even require that many. Jose Mourinho’s men are undefeated in their last eleven Premier League matches with eight victories and three draws. They remain unconquerable on their turf with thirteen wins from fifteen games – scoring a remarkable thirty goals while conceding just seven times. Mourinho has created a perfectly balanced midfield that is equally comfortable when in possession and when chasing the game.
Cesc Fabregas has revolutionised the centre of Chelsea’s midfield. Partnering Nemanja Matic, the Spanish playmaker has added a consistency to the team’s attack and has also moved them closer to the tiki-taka style of football that owner Roman Abramovich craves. Eden Hazard is their most dangerous player who could cause all sorts of problems for United’s defence. He has a great burst of pace, quick feet, and very good agility, all of which allows him to breeze past opposition defenders. Against packed defences, Hazard’s ability to take defenders out of the game is invaluable, as it opens up space for himself and his teammates. Loic Remy, who missed the chance to face his former club last weekend after picking up an injury in training, is expected to start in place of aging hero Didier Drogba with Mourinho confirming his availability. Remy's game is far better suited to the way Chelsea play right now than Drogba's, particularly because he has the legs to press centre backs and the movement to pull them around for the likes of Hazard to attack. He's been impressive whenever he's started and has scored the winner in each of his last two matches against Hull City and Stoke City.
The Red Devils are in a rich vein of form with six straight wins that have come against the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City. Louis van Gaal will be hopeful of adding Chelsea to that list but will need to be even better than they were against City; as no team has managed to beat Chelsea at the Bridge this season. Last weekend, United produced their best performance to date as they hammered the reigning champions 4-2 at Old Trafford. Their ability to stamp a side into the ground when they are on top is back. The knack of their players performing at their best in the biggest moments of the biggest games is back. Their fortune, fluidity and pressing game: back, back and back. Although there are still a few creases that need to be ironed out, the feel-good factor is well and truly alive at Old Trafford. United can still be careless with the ball and a lesser goalkeeper than David de Gea would not have been able to make this defence look anywhere near as competent. But there is something of the old United in the way they conduct themselves. The fires are burning again, the attitude is flaring up. Barring a catastrophic collapse from Chelsea in the final few weeks, United won't win anything this season. But they're doing a good job of showing how they plan to next year.
Radamel Falcao is still yet to show the kind of quality that saw him chalk up 155 goals in 200 games for Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco, and club record-signing Angel Di Maria is out of sorts and now out of favour. Yet the absence of these two headliners has hardly seemed to matter of late, with the team coming to the fore through the efforts of players such as Daley Blind, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick, and the unprecedented contributions of Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini. Juan Mata is another redeemed at Old Trafford, although his brightness never dimmed in the eyes of many supporters. The Spaniard is in fine form with three goals and an assist in his four games since returning to the side. He’ll be raring to face his former club and prove Mourinho was wrong to let go of him. Wayne Rooney has scored five goals in his last seven games for United and the partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill will need to be rock-solid to prevent him from adding to his tally.
VERDICT: Draw 23/10
Chelsea have proven difficult to beat at home while United have struggled on their travels this season having won just five of their fifteen away games with seven draws and three defeats. The Blues haven’t looked at their best in recent weeks and maybe that’s partly because of Diego Costa’s absence due to injury. United have been a veritable breath of fresh air in recent times but it will take a special performance to win at the Bridge. A draw wouldn’t be the worst result for Chelsea and it’s what they’ll probably settle for.