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Manchester United v Chelsea Preview: Can Sir Alex Hand Villas Boas His First Defeat?

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Manchester Untied play Chelsea this afternoon at Old Trafford in what will no doubt will be a massive game for both clubs who will be desperate to lay down an early maker in this season’s Premier League.

Despite drawing their first game away to Stoke City this season, Chelsea under their new Portuguese manger Andre Villas-Boas have gone onto win their next five games in all competitions this season and will certainly be a test for us tomorrow.

United started well this season and have won all four of their league games, playing an attacking brand of football that has seen the likes of Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez score some outstanding goals already this season. The performances have been even more rewarding given the fact youth is at the heart of the team’s success this season.

There was a sense that an era had ended in the summer as Edwin Van der Sar and Paul Scholes joined Gary Neville (who had retired in February) in retirement, with stalwarts John O’Shea and Wes Brown moving onto to join Sunderland.

United fans worried about how the team would cope in the wake of losing that ‘experience’ have since been delighted with the form made so far by the likes of Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones (signed from Blackburn Rovers for around £17m) who all look to be players who can play for the ‘here and now’ rather than 1-2 years down the line.

It’s been a similar situation at Chelsea where Villas-Boas has been busy in the transfer-market bringing in talented young players to play alongside the experienced players at Stamford Bridge who are maybe perhaps past their peak levels. Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry have arguably been Chelsea’s three most important players since Roman Ambramovich took charge of the London club in 2003.

Whilst all three are still big-game players they are not getting younger and like Rio Ferdinand have struggled with injuries over the last 18 months. With that in mind, despite their undoubted quality Chelsea had to spend in the summer. Juan Mata, Raul Meireles and Romelu Lukaku were signed adding a new younger core to the squad which was boosted in January with the arrivals of Ferndnao Torres and David Luiz.

Torres is arguably the enigma of the season as he continues to struggle to find the form that saw him take the league by storm in his first two seasons at Liverpool when he really did look like a £50m player. Of course he hasn’t ‘clicked’ yet at Chelsea and has 1 goal from 23 appearances since he signed on transfer deadline day in January this year.

United met Chelsea five times last season, winning every encounter between the sides with the last of those victories coming in a dominant title-decider in the league at Old Trafford. On the day the 2-1 score-line actually flattered Chelsea who barley had a kick in the game thanks to United’s blistering start which saw them go 2-0 up after 23 minutes thanks to strikes from Hernandez and club-captain Nemanja Vidic (who unavailable for today’s match through injury).

Chelsea’s players will be out to prove people wrong, showing that they are a fitter and better side than last year who will be keen to lay down a maker early on in the season. They certainly have the ability to become the first travelling side since West Brom last year in the league to not go home empty-handed.

So what can we expect from tomorrow’s game. What will be the key battles on the pitch? 

Phil Jones v Fernando Torres

United new boy Jones has started the season in an impressive manner – Torres clearly has not. However the signs are there that Chelsea’s no.9 is beginning to improve, as he created both of their goals at home to Leverkusen in the Champions League on Tuesday.

It shall be very interesting to see if Villas-Boas starts the Spaniard who has good memories playing against us at Old Trafford. If he does it could be a bold move which could give Torres an extra 10% of confidence. Jones though will not be intimidated by him and will relish the responsibility and challenge that will be on his shoulders come this afternoon.

Javier Hernandez v David Luiz 

Hernandez scored three goals last season against Chelsea who will be fearful of him today. Arguably his most important goal came after 36 seconds in this corresponding fixture when he ran onto a perfect through-ball from Park Ji-Sung and made a difficult finish look relatively easy.

Luiz that day, failed to keep up with United’s little Mexican or his strike-partner Rooney. There’s no doubt the Brazilian has the potential to be a great player in England. He will definitely want to make amends for his performance last season and show his reading of the game has improved.

Ashley Young v Ashley Cole

Make no mistake about Young has started the season in probably the best form of his life and already has 2 league goals already this season. He’s certainly shown already why Sir Alex wanted to bring him to Old Trafford instantly looking like a player born to play for the club.

His marker today will be his England team-mate Ashley Cole who was probably Chelsea’s most consistent player last season. Young has the class to beat the tireless Cole, who will want to use every ounce of his experience to frustrate United’s new wing-hero and cut out his supply early on. 

In terms of a prediction for the game tomorrow, as I stated earlier on in a predictions articleI believe this is going to be a tough game for us. However I believe United have enough quality to win and fancy us to edge the game 2-1.

That will be a great result for us and will make it 5 wins out of 5 so far in the league this season. A point though wouldn’t be the end of the world tomorrow but you sense that our players and Sir Alex (obviously!) would want to win this, putting an early dent into the Villas-Boas Empire at Stamford Bridge.

Just as in last season’s fixture, it will be important for United to start the game well and to pressure Chelsea early on. The defence will also need to be switched on at all times and it shall be interesting to see which midfielder holds their hands up to mark Mata who certainly has the imagination and flair to hurt us if given time and space on the ball.

By Adam Dennehey  @ADennehey87