Sunday’s title clash at Stamford Bridge is being billed as one of, if the the most important match in United’s season, and rightly so. The West London club having made a storming start to the Premier League season, proving they are real title contenders and threatening to dislodge a crown that in recent years has found a comfortable place atop the Red Devil’s head. However less focus has been given to how significant the game is to Chelsea’s season, in particular new manager Carlo Ancelotti.
A regular viewer of the 2008-09 Premier League campaign will have noticed the many statistics surrounding the clashes between the ‘Big Four’. Last season Chelsea took a miserable 4 points from a possible 18 against their title rivals. Luis Felipe Scolari claimed just one of these with a solitary win at the Emirates stadium coming under temporary manager Guus Hiddink, when both teams’ seasons were effectively over. This, I believe, played a monumental part in Chelsea’s inability to mount a serious title challenge.
‘A six pointer’ is a phrase that is more often associated with relegation encounters yet it seems a perfect way to describe Sundays clash. If Chelsea are victorious they will go five points clear, a healthy lead, especially at this early stage in the season, if United win they will leapfrog Chelsea and move to the top of the table. However there is not only the obvious opportunity to gain a point-based advantage but also a mental one. The early home losses to Liverpool and Arsenal last season had a great affect on Chelsea’s mentality towards their title challenge as they struggled to recover quickly after losing their proud home record.
Manchester United and Alex Ferguson have proved to be a thorn in Chelsea’s side in the last few seasons with the infamous Champions League final as well as a 3-0 drubbing at Old Trafford last year. Blues managers have struggled to get the better of Alex Ferguson since the departure of the ‘The Special One’ José Mourinho and although Carlo Ancelotti already has a victory over Ferguson under his belt from the Community Shield, you can bet that he would give that up for three points this Sunday.
Ancelotti has already gone a significant way in gaining the respect and confidence of the Stamford Bridge faithful and a win over Man United will really generate belief in the Italians ability to deliver in the big games and produce silverware. Many Chelsea fans, including myself feel that this is a good time to be playing the champions as many of their recent performances have been unconvincing. United currently have many defensive frailties and are unlikely to be relishing the chance to face the rampant Didier Drogba after Fernando Torres tore them apart at Anfield. However as Manchester United have proved time and time again under Ferguson, they are most dangerous when their credentials are doubted and Ancelotti will do well to expect a strong United display on Sunday.
This is one of Chelsea and Man United’s biggest tests of the season so far but it is also Ancelotti’s biggest of his Chelsea reign. One thing is for sure, Sunday’s encounter will go a long way to shaping people’s opinion of Ancelotti’s ability to bring success to Stamford Bridge.