Chelsea against Manchester United is always a big fixture, but you just get the sense that this Sunday’s encounter might shape the home side’s season.
Roberto Di Matteo and his team have started really well, and they thoroughly warrant the praise being showered on them – but they’ve started well before, and it’s amounted to a false dawn. Remember 2010/11, Carlo Ancelotti’s last season in charge? They began that campaign looking like the Champions-elect, but despite finishing as runners-up, they never really mounted a serious challenge.
Sunday is a great opportunity to show the rest of the league that the cluster of young stars added over the Summer have bridged the gap between where the club finished in 2011/12 and where they want to be in the present day. Eden Hazard and Juan Mata were superb last weekend against Tottenham, but that was a weakened Spurs who were there for the beating – if they can produce something similar against Manchester United, then there’s no avoiding the fact that this side is very much for real.
There’s also a confidence aspect in play here. There are other tests awaiting this Chelsea side, of course there are, but beating United at any time does a football club a lot of good. It’s the kind of fixture which can quantify potential, there’s no longer a caveat about ‘not having played anyone’ – if Chelsea come through on Sunday, they’ll have beaten both of their nearest London rivals, and their biggest rival over the last decade. Think of the momentum that would give Di Matteo & Co heading into the Christmas stretch, think of the seven point gap that they would already have over United.
For the visitors on Sunday, losing isn’t the end of the world. Manchester United are never in need of a boost to their self-confidence, just by wearing those red shirts the players seem to grow in their entitlement. We all know when Ferguson’s side are strongest, and driving back from London with no points will just feel more like a wasted journey than it will a serious dent to their title aspirations – United barely look at the league table before February.
But Chelsea…add ‘belief’ into the concoction of craft, flair, and dynamism at Stamford Bridge, and you’ll have a bona fide contender.
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