Manchester City might be Premier League champions, but for most of the world I suspect it's Manchester United and Chelsea who truly define the competition. Since Jose Mourinho's arrival in 2004, it's been these two clubs who've dominated the league, winning seven of the last eight titles between them. The City era might be upon us, but United versus Chelsea still feels like the season's marquee matchup.
And that means that Blues fans (and presumably United fans too; I haven't asked) are stewing in a mixture of anticipation and stress. Manchester United haven't won in approximately five million years at Stamford Bridge, and have been rather off the pace so far this year. Chelsea are top of the table, having gone into this weekend four points clear. This shouldn't be that traumatic an experience. But we know it will be. This is Manchester United, our only serious rivals for dominance of the English game over most of the past decade.
Which will make beating them more fun, of course. It'd be nice to get the bitter taste of our last encounter with Sir Alex Ferguson and company, where we blew a 3-0 lead in one of Andre Villas-Boas' final matches in charge, out of our mouths, and a victory here would put Chelsea seven points ahead of United (not to mention restoring the four point lead over City). And there's no reason why a win should be impossible to achieve.
Even though Chelsea will be missing Frank Lampard due to injury and John Terry due to suspension*, they're in much better shape than their guests coming into this match. United have seen Shinji Kagawa ruled out, and they won't have Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling or Phil Jones available. Against an attack of Chelsea's calibre, missing so many strong centre halves will hurt.
*Everyone else is available, including Marko Marin.
We've gone into some depth as to the different looks United might be offering, especially in the middle of the pitch, but for me the key tactical battle will be the centre back and pivot midfielders against the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney and then United's ability to track Chelsea's dangerous front line. There's been speculation that Roberto di Matteo might decide to lock down the flanks by fielding either Ryan Bertrand or Victor Moses, but my gut feel is that the Blues will be looking to apply serious pressure to United's wobbly back line. That means Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar all starting, presumably behind Fernando Torres.
This isn't going to look like a traditional, scrappy United versus Chelsea game. We're used to seeing these matches bogged down in the midfield as the Blues use their raw power to stop the Red Devils playing. Last season, however, featured ten goals in two matches, and I'd guess that we'll be looking at another shootout here. With luck, we'll come away with another big win.
Date/Time: Sunday Oct. 28; 4:00 pm GMT (12:00 pm EDT; 9:30 pm IST)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London.
TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK), Fox Soccer Channel (USA), ESPN (India).