Blues all set to give United a devil of a time

Posted by Mark Worrall

As Chelsea prepare for the visit of the reigning Premier League champions Manchester United to Stamford Bridge on Sunday, match-going Blues supporters are brimful of confidence and optimism that Jose Mourinho and his men have more than enough in their locker to beat the Red Devils in fine style -- thereby heaping further pressure on beleaguered United boss David Moyes.

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Much has been made this season about Manchester United being a team in transition, but then the same has been said of Chelsea. Both clubs have significant resources and funds to ensure that their respective playing squads should be in a continuous state of development. Yet a quick look at the probable starting line-ups for Sunday's clash suggests that the process is being better managed at Stamford Bridge than Old Trafford.

Mourinho may be without the injured Branislav Ivanovich and possibly Frank Lampard, but there is a definite full-strength look about Chelsea's likely starting XI: Petr Cech, Cesar Azpilicueta, John Terry, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, David Luiz, Ramires, Eden Hazard, Willian, Oscar and Fernando Torres.

If there is one question mark, it is the retention of David Luiz as central midfield partner for Ramires. Mourinho could recall John Obi Mikel or more likely hand the 20.75 million pound signing from Benfica, Nemanja Matic, a second Blues debut. Ironically, it could come at the expense of the man he was a three million pound transfer make-weight for just three years ago. This being the case, Luiz may be deployed in defence alongside Terry -- or he might find himself on the bench alongside the likes of Juan Mata, Andre Schurrle and Samuel Eto'o.

Moyes' problems are self-evident. Shorn of the services of Robin van Persie and Chelsea transfer target Wayne Rooney -- who remains troubled by a groin injury -- there is distinct lack of world-class appeal about Moyes' probable starting XI of David De Gea, Rafael, Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Antonio Valencia, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Adnan Januzaj, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck.

Take a straw poll along the Fulham Road on Sunday asking supporters of both teams attending the game whom they would have in their line up from the opposition players taking the field and the answers would be markedly different.
Blues fans might mention prodigious youngster Januzaj who has wowed the crowds with some quality performances for United, including being man-of-the-match in last weekend's 2-0 victory over Swansea. However if Januzaj were on the Stamford Bridge books, in all probability he would be on loan at Vitesse Arnhem learning his trade in the Eredvisie alongside a raft of Chelsea starlets including Patrick van Aanholt, Lucas Piazon and Bertrand Traore. With no Van Persie or Rooney, there is little appeal elsewhere in United's team. To put it bluntly, none would find a place on Mourinho's bench let alone his starting XI.

Red Devils supporters, on the other hand, only need to look among the Chelsea substitutes for the sighs to begin. How they would love to have a creative player of the quality of Mata, or the incisive industry of Schurrle or the flamboyance of Luiz at Old Trafford. On the field of play, Eden Hazard and Oscar will make them weep tears as big as January artichokes as they repeatedly torment and most probably breach the United defence.

For all Sir Alex Ferguson's outstanding credentials as a manager, the legacy he has left his successor Moyes is lamentable. An ageing squad with no obvious replacements coming through the ranks and no marquee signings yet to boast is not the Manchester United that the world of football has become accustomed to. But it is a reality, and it is one that Mourinho's team will exploit to the full on Sunday.

Speaking ahead of the game, Mourinho erred on the side of caution despite United’s problems. "More than often the team that looks to be in the most difficult situation is the team that appears stronger in that match. That's why I think this game is difficult for us," he said, playing down Chelsea's chances. Victory however will give Mourinho his 100th Premier League win -- and what better way to achieve the milestone than by beating United? It’s a greater motivation than just securing three points.

In nine attempts, Moyes has never schooled a team to victory against a Mourinho XI and the stats don't get any better for those of the red persuasion who might be looking to the record books to find some comfort. Manchester United never managed to score a goal at Stamford Bridge in any competition during the Special One's first term in office. Then of course there is the incredible unbeaten home run in the Premier League that the Portuguese has threaded together which stretches back a remarkable 70 games. Records are of course there to be broken, but it's hard to see anything more than heartache for Moyes and the Red Devils on Sunday as Mourinho's Chelsea march relentlessly on.


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