Venue: Old Trafford
Date: Sunday, 11 January
Kick-off: 1600 GMT
The last time Chelsea played at Old Trafford in the league, we’d just seen Jose Mourinho leave only to be replaced by the sour-faced, inanimate Grant who clearly didn’t have a clue how to handle a game like this. Needless to say we lost 2-0.
This time round it’s yet another new manager making the trip as we face our first game away against a ‘Big Four’ club. We’ve already played them all at home, taking just one point from the three games and whilst we’re yet to be beaten on the road, United are as yet unbeaten at Old Trafford.
With us three points behind Liverpool and United four points behind us but with two games in hand, this game could be our most crucial fixture in determining our season.
On the injury front for United, Wes Brown and Owen Hargreaves miss out although Fergie has Rio Ferdinand available again after his four game absence with a back injury. Patrice Evra also returns after a four game ban.
For Chelsea, long-term absentee Michael Essien remains out, as does Florent Malouda (hamstring). John Terry and Michael Ballack return from bans.
Wayne Rooney – for all Rooney’s goals and assists, his biggest threat probably comes as a result of the fire in his belly. He won’t be pulling out of any challenge half-heartedly and if our players fail to show the same level of commitment, he’ll be running rings around them.
Ricardo Carvalho – John Terry returns for this one after a 3-game ban and he probably couldn’t have picked a more unwelcoming venue. The Old Trafford crowd will be on his case for the duration, so Carvalho will have to be on top of his game to cover for any lapses in his partner’s concentration.
United have won 50 out of 60 Premier League games at Old Trafford, winning their last seven at home and conceding in just one of those games. They are currently unbeaten in 13 top-flight games at Old Trafford and have won their last 6 against London clubs in the top-flight. Their last seven Premier League games has seen them undefeated and not conceding a single goal. United are four points off their tally this time last season and they go into this game 3rd in the table.
Chelsea haven’t lost a game in the North-West since last season’s trip to Old Trafford and from our last 20 games away from home, we’ve won 16 and drawn 4. We’re unbeaten in seven games in all competitions and in five in the Premier League. In terms of goals against us, the draw with Fulham over the Christmas period saw our first away goals conceded in eight games. We’re a point up on our tally this time last year and go into the game 2nd in the table.
HEAD TO HEAD
Chelsea’s only win in their last six games at Old Trafford was back in May 2005 although if you ignore penalty shoot-outs (I keep trying), then we’ve actually only lost 2 of our last 15 against them in all competitions. Having said that, United have won two and drawn one of our last three Premier League meetings at Old Trafford, on each occasion leading 1-0 at half-time. United were the last club to beat us by more than one goal in the Premier League (April 2006) and Chelsea, likewise, were the last club to beat United by a margin higher than a single goal (Sept 2007). United have conceded more goals (43) and dropped more points (58) to us than any other club in the Premier League. Defeat for them would be their 150th in the league under Fergie, whilst for us, it would be our 100th away in the Premier League.
Home And Away
League (inc PL): United 55 wins, Chelsea 37 wins, Draws 41
Prem: United 9 wins, Chelsea 10 wins, Draws 14
At United Only
League (inc PL): United 26 wins, Chelsea 17 wins, Draws 23
Prem: United 5 wins, Chelsea 4 wins, Draws 7
LAST SEASON’S GAME
United 2-0 Chelsea
23 September 2007
United Scorers: Tevez 45, Saha 90 (pen)
Ref: Mike Dean
THIS SEASON’S REVERSE
Chelsea 1-1 United
21 September 2008
Chelsea scorer: Kalou, 80
United scorer: Park, 18
Ref: Mike Riley
We might’ve been pretty impressive away from home in the last calendar year, winning 15 of 19 unbeaten but we didn’t meet a top four side in that time. These games aren’t exactly known for their high scores and add to that the fact that United haven’t conceded a goal in their last 7 Premier League games, and it’s not looking like this one will be a goal-fest either. So, with us desperate not to lose another big game and United looking to make their usual post-Christmas push to the top, it could be another tight affair. Unfortunately, given Scolari’s lack of experience for this sort of Premier League tie and our recent form, I wouldn’t even be holding my breath for a point here.
UNITED (from): Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Neville, Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, O’Shea, Ronaldo, Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Park, Berbatov, Rooney, Welbeck, Gibson, Possebon.
CHELSEA (from): Cech, Cudicini, Hilario, Bosingwa, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, Mancienne, Carvalho, A Cole, Mikel, J Cole, Lampard, Kalou, Stoch, Deco, Mineiro, Belletti, Ballack, Anelka, Drogba, Di Santo.
Howard Webb (Yorkshire)