Football FanCast columnist Richard Marsh looks ahead to the weekend’s clash at Stamford Bridge and wonders if the club’s returning stars hold the key to who’ll win the contest.
This Sunday’s forthcoming clash of the titans at Stamford Bridge, is what many people feel will give us a true indicator of where this seasons Barclays Premiership trophy will be headed?
Will it be Old Trafford, for a record fourth successive time and a record 19th in total? Or will it be Stamford Bridge, a trophy which would show the world the club does not need Jose Mourinho.
Or will it suggest a new winner could be on the cards?
Whatever the outcome, it’s the build up that really makes these games what they are, a fixture nobody wants to miss, and the ultimate in football.
Chelsea are impeccable at home. Five wins out of five, 15 goals scored and just one conceded, and that was way back on the opening day against Hull.
They are scoring goals for fun, and their midfield is playing a large part of it. Lampard, Deco, Essien and Ballack all have three goals to their tally while Didier Drogba is in the form of his life. But the biggest boost for the blues this weekend could be the return of Joe Cole.
The brilliant English winger ripped Blackburn apart last weekend, so much so that Carlo Ancelotti called him a genius and a new contract was offered.
What sets Cole apart from other wingers, and other Chelsea midfielders, is that he has it all. He has pace, strength, he defends, he runs all day, and more importantly, he has the ability to pick out a world class pass, cross or shot with either foot.
It is a shame almost that England boss Fabio Capello has got the current midfield working so well on the international scene, for it begs the question where will Cole be placed?
But back to Sunday and many will see Chelsea as favourites, United are struggling, no question about it, but Sir Alex will see the Chelsea game as a perfect chance to kick start their season, not just with a win, but with a performance. Wayne Rooney only started on the substitutes bench and so should be totally match fit and fresh come Sunday. But United’s biggest boost could be the comeback of Darren Fletcher.
The tough tackling midfielder made his return from injury against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday, and is a player more than any other at Untied who thrives on the big game.
He has become one of the most important men on Sir Alex Ferguson’s team sheet, his endless running and chasing back has been coupled with a new found ability to pick out a beauty of a pass and score 5 or 6 goals a season.
With Owen Hargreaves still recovering from a serious knee injury, Fletcher is the only man Fergie can rely on to really produce the crunch challenges. It is not Carrick nor Anderson’s style and Scholes will try his heart out, but just can’t produce a quality challenge.
The evidence of Fletcher’s importance at Old Trafford was no more evident than the painful experience the reds suffered in Rome against Barcelona in the Champions League Final.
All United could do while Xavi and Iniesta made them look silly, was run and chase after the ball for 80 minutes. Had Fletcher not been sent off against Arsenal in the second leg of the semi final, the cause of which, was Fletcher’s never say die attitude, then United could have done something about the two Spanish midfield generals.
If any United fan was left in doubt as to the Scotsman’s contribution to the squad, then that night was it.
And so it comes down to this, who will get the upper hand? Chelsea or United? And how much of an impact will their recovering superstars have on the game?