The date was Sep 25, 2010. Chelsea were on 15 points after 5 games. We had scored 21 goals and conceded 1. And we were 4 points clear at the top. Odds were being cut. Chelsea were expected to run away with the league. And then . . . we lost against Man City and that started the famous decline. We appeared to recover only to lose another crucial match against Liverpool few weeks later to enter into a ‘bad moment’. And that ‘bad moment’ lasted an eternity.
Man Utd are on a similar run now. The traditional slow starters now have 12 points from 4 games with a goal difference of 15 goals. That does not guarantee a win against Chelsea on Sunday. Yes, Man Utd dismantled Arsenal but Wenger’s team was hardly a threat. Yeah Man Utd played brilliantly well but Arsenal produced one of their worst displays in their history. It was a freak result.
Chelsea were lucky to play some bottom half opponents early in the situation. While we have not really blown them away, I think those games have helped us settle down with the line-up, roles and tactics. Not sure if I’m alone here – I see this Chelsea team improving. It’s not just because Mata and Meireles are playing. But they are a big part of Boas’ plan for improvement.
No matter how Chelsea and Man Utd have played in their last four games, I think this match still starts even. The only advantage for Man Utd I see is that they are playing at the theatre of screams. Rest everything shouldn’t matter so much.
From a team selection point of view, I want this to be a line-up with fast and attacking players. Here’s my team: Cech, Terry, Luiz, Ivanovic and Ashley Cole in defence. Ramires, Mikel and Meireles in midfield. Torres, Mata and Sturridge upfront.
See I do agree that Bosingwa has done brilliantly well of late. I was half-tempted to pick him over Ivanovic at right back. If it was not against Man Utd, I’d have picked him over Ivanovic. Bosingwa has an edge over Ivanovic in attacks and I think vice versa is true in defence. Knowing how quick and dangerous the interchanging Man Utd wingers are, I’d pick Ivanovic.
I wasn’t a fan of having both Mikel and Ramires in the midfield. I see that Mikel’s role is changing. He’s still our defensive midfielder. He’s the one covering the back, when our defenders are on attacking duty. But I see Mikel making attacking runs and getting involved in the exchange of possession and passes in the attack with the other 3Ms – Mata, Meireles and Malouda. If Mikel could contribute to the attacks, his value to the team could be very high. In the hope that he can do this, I’d pick him along with Ramires.
Meireles over Lampard is actually a no-brainer. If it’s down to form, it’s a no-brainer. Meireles has come in and played like he belongs here in this midfield. As of today, he could contribute to our team’s success better than Super Frank.
Upfront, Mata picks himself. Torres should definitely start. After his brace of assists that’s the least he should expect. Torres has got a decent record against Man Utd and he has always been a handful for the Man Utd defence. On the right wing though, I’m unsure if I should go for Anelka or Sturridge. I don’t see AVB springing a surprise by giving a start for Lukaku. He’s not that much of a maverick, as far as we’ve seen. I picked Sturridge because I wanted us to have players that cause them problems and not their young defence and young keeper to settle down. Sturridge will do that role much better than Anelka.
So, my team is Cech, Terry, Luiz, Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, Ramires, Mikel, Meireles, Torres, Mata and Sturridge. All said, let me see if I can predict Boas’ starting eleven. Here we go: Cech, Terry, Alex, Ashley Cole, Bosingwa, Mikel, Ramires, Lampard, Anelka, Torres and Mata.
Good thing is, the pressure is really on Man Utd. Firstly, they are super-favourites after their great start to the season. Secondly, they don’t want to see Man City sitting above them in the league table. Man Utd needs to match or improve City’s result. Now the drama is all about the Manchester teams in premier league and the Spanish superteams in champions league. Chelsea are off the radar. Chelsea can get beaten on Sunday and still continue to mount a title challenge and win it. If Man Utd get beaten, it puts a big question mark over their young team and the city rivalry will put more pressure on them.
Many seem to think that Man Utd will demolish Chelsea tomorrow. I tend to disagree. Chelsea can match and better Man Utd. Of course, Man Utd are the more settled team under a more seasoned manager. Boas’ Chelsea are still work in progress. In fact, it looks more like AVB has his sights on 2012-13 rather than 2011-12. But then, Man Utd never take Chelsea lightly. Fergie’s cautious approach against Chelsea, even at Old Trafford, explains this.
This time though, I don’t think Man Utd play the cautious game against Chelsea. I expect them to go gung-ho at us early in the game. I think Man Utd might want to settle the game in the first 30 minutes. They might give their all in the first half hour with all their pace and youth. If we withstand their onslaught in the first half hour and stay 0-0, we will have a match on our hands.
Andre Villas Boas wasn’t even born when Fergie started his managerial career. Boas was in his nappies when Fergie won his first league title. Boas is less than half of Fergie’s age. Wouldn’t it be some story if he Boas beats him like young Jose did with his Porto team at Old Trafford? Something like the youngest manager to defeat Fergie at Old Trafford? Wonder how Andre would react to a win? I’m loving his dug out antics. It’s like he’s controlling all the eleven players with playstation move attached to his limbs. Would be great to see his reaction if Chelsea do well!
Like I tweeted this morning, my head says 2-2 and my heart says a 2-1 win for Chelsea. What’s your prediction for this game?