• FT

    Everton

    2

    Liverpool

    2

  • FT

    Newcastle

    2

    West Brom

    1

  • FT

    Southampton

    1

    Tottenham

    2

  • FT

    Chelsea

    2

    Man Utd

    3

BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE

Stamford Bridge, England

Attendance: 41644

* Local time based on your geographic location.

Chelsea

  • Juan Mata 44'
  • Ramires 53'

2 - 3

FT

Manchester United

  • David Luiz 4' OG
  • Robin Van Persie 12'
  • Javier Hernández 75'

Title rivals put credentials to test

Miguel Delaney
Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Di Matteo are both attempting to blend old and new

The last time these teams met, way back in February, it was a rousing, high-scoring draw in which Manchester United came from behind. In the period since, there has been significant change for both clubs on and off the pitch. And yet, for all the ructions, there's a lot of evidence to suggest we might see a similar type of game.

At the very least, it will probably be preceded by a very different kind of build-up because, had this match fallen a few weeks earlier or later, it might have brought to a head a number of the off-field controversies that have recently dominated the game: John Terry, the Ferdinands, handshakes and T-shirts.

As it is, with the Chelsea captain suspended and Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand hopefully not holding too much of a grudge against one another, we can largely concentrate on what is good about the game: goals and attacking football. We might well see a lot of both. At present, both United and Chelsea are the top-scoring teams in the Premier League with 21 and 19 goals respectively. That is down to the biggest on-pitch changes for both clubs: the approaches.

Most notably, Chelsea have been attempting to evolve from the defiant defensive style that brought the Champions League to the more expansive game their owner has always desired. Most notoriously, Sir Alex Ferguson eschewed signing more defensive players in order to bolster his attack with Robin van Persie.

But, as positive as both of those changes have been in terms of a series of exhilarating, high-scoring games, they have also created the one main flaw the two clubs share: the lack of a true link between new attack and old defence.

As yet, Roberto Di Matteo hasn't completely calibrated his central midfield two. While it hasn't yet cost them in the league so far, the problems have been starkly exposed in Europe as Juventus came from behind to take a point at Stamford Bridge and Shakhtar Donetsk cut through them on Tuesday.

For his part, by withdrawing Wayne Rooney in a diamond formation, Ferguson appears to have fallen on a system that makes Manchester United look so much more convincing than in the opening games of the campaign. That has still been offset, though, by the number of goals they're conceding.

Such elements are so far the biggest arguments against either club becoming champions, and it's going to be interesting to see which of the two compromised midfields comes out on top, or whether one of the two managers will temporarily alter formation.

In that sense, too, it's likely this encounter will start to reveal how good these teams really are because, so far, there have been too many caveats to properly tell. Although Chelsea are unbeaten with seven wins from eight, their only true challenges have come against an Arsenal side who folded and a Tottenham Hotspur team missing their two most crucial players, Mousa Dembele and Gareth Bale.

Manchester United, of course, lost to Spurs themselves but immediately altered formation and, subsequently, their form. This will more thoroughly examine how far-reaching that has been. And, given the quality of opposition if United go behind, it might finally test whether fully relying on their attacking potential is a profitable tactic for the season.

Either way, with so many fine attackers and so many flaws in the rest of the pitch, this is likely to be an open game, if also one that closes out a lot of arguments about these two sides.

Chelsea player to watch: Juan Mata. At the start of this season, the nimble playmaker appeared to be completely overshadowed by the number of exquisite attacking players Chelsea signed, not least United target Eden Hazard. Following a well-earned break, though, Mata has been reborn and rose to become the central player in so many Chelsea attacks. Interchanging with Hazard, it will likely be the Spaniard who gives Ferguson most to think about in terms of how to solve the problem of the middle of the pitch.

Manchester United player to watch: Rio Ferdinand. Given all that's happened lately, you could forgive Ferdinand having a few other things on his mind as he approaches this game. The only problem is that he's going to have a lot more to face once it starts. With Chelsea possessing so much attacking talent and United generally leaving their defence so exposed, it will fall to a centre-back who has already come under criticism this season to fill the gaps. Whether he does so will be key.

Key battle: John Obi Mikel v Wayne Rooney. It's rare that two big teams match up quite so completely. In truth, you could have also picked out this exact battle at the other end of the pitch: an assured attacker versus an awkwardly-positioned - and often overwhelmed - defensive midfielder. This game looks likely to come down to which backline handles the other team's forward line best. If Rooney can give Mikel the run-around, for example, United could plunder a few goals.

Trivia: This is Sir Alex Ferguson's 50th league match against Chelsea. He has won 16, drawn 18 and lost 15 of the 49 meetings. The first of those games came at Stamford Bridge on 21 February 1987, when Frank Stapleton's opener was equalised by Micky Hazard for a 1-1 draw. Will another Hazard bookend the 50?

Stats: Manchester United have, infamously, gone behind in eight of their 12 matches in all competitions this season. That pattern has, however, resulted in six complete comebacks. Those wins represent 50% of their fixtures so far. In the legendary 1998-99 season, which was characterised by such comebacks, United recovered victories from losing positions in 15 games. That represented 25% of their total of 59. Whether it stays that way for the season remains to be seen but, either way, Chelsea shouldn't get too comfortable if they go ahead.

Odds: Chelsea are 1.40 to win with bet365 while Manchester United are 1.85. By contrast, a pretty enticing draw is 2.40.

Prediction: A high-scoring draw.

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