Could Louis van Gaal be the man to stop Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea?

The new Premier League season may only be eight games old, but signs suggesting we’re witnessing a vintage Chelsea side are impossible to ignore.

The Blues currently stand five points clear at the top of the table, undefeated with the joint-second goals-conceded record and top goals-for record in the league, only dropping points thus far against reigning champions Manchester City – the only display of their domestic campaign that wasn’t completely convincing.

Consider the make-up of the squad too; Eden Hazard, Oscar, Thibaut Courtois and Cesar Azpilicueta are already sensational talents, but all aged 25 or younger, it’s frightening to ponder what heights their careers could reach in a couple of years time.

Meanwhile, Petr Cech, arguably the second-greatest goalkeeper in Premier League history after Peter Schmeichel, and Filipe Luis, unquestionably the best full-back in Europe last season, don’t even make the starting line-up.

Throw in Nemanja Matic, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Andre Schurrle and Didier Drogba, players who already have and will continue to record great achievements, and history could look upon this expertly-assembled Blues cast with a similar awe to Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ or Manchester United’s treble-winning 1999 side.

Both individually and collectively, It’s certainly one that stands out when comparing to other offical Premier League squad photographs of the last decade, seemingly possessing a little bit of everything.

Of course, any team can only be truly judged upon their successes and the 2014/15 Chelsea side have won nothing yet. But Crystal Palace boss Neil Warnock believes ¬†they could go on to replicate Arsenal’s iconic unbeaten feat of the 2003/04 season and a similar opinion is held by BBC pundit Garth Crooks.

It’s difficult to think of any Premier League side that might claim a win against the Blues right now, especially considering they could conceivably eek out draws against all of their potential title rivals without surrendering pole position.

Yet, if there’s one potential banana-skin lingering on the horizon, it comes in the form of Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, who Chelsea visit at the weekend.

Jose Mourinho and the Manchester United gaffer have an interesting history together. Two exceptionally volatile characters, the first time they met produced instant fire-works; the Portuguese was working as assistant to Bobby Robson at Barcelona in 1997 and erupted upon discovering van Gaal had been lined up as his boss’s replacement.

“Mourinho was very angry,” recalled Van Gaal. “He was very irritated and shouted. That was impressive for me, because he had emotions and he was right. I asked him to be the coach, the trainer, because he knew the team and he could help me. He said ‘yes’ and stayed three years with me.”

Mourinho and van Gaal won back-to-back La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey together before going their separate ways. The mutual respect is still felt between the two.

Mourinho told reporters this summer; “There will always be a fantastic relation between us. I like him a lot and I know he likes me a lot too. Louis is Louis and I am Jose and each one is unique. But the training philosophy and methodology… well, I learn with him. I also developed a lot of my own ideas, but I would lie if I didn’t say I learned something with Louis, because I did.”

Don’t expect a humble ‘Special One’ on Sunday afternoon or even in the Premier League clash’s media build-up. Both mangers have already taken a few pre-emptive swipes at each other in the public eye; van Gaal claiming Mourinho is ‘jealous of his list of clubs’ back in May, the Chelsea gaffer baiting his counterpart in July by criticising Luke Shaw’s rumoured ¬£130k per-week salary.

The narrative of the master taking on his former apprentice certainly adds an interesting dynamic to the match, one that’s only been tested once before – the 2010 Champions League final, when Mourinho’s Inter Milan beat van Gaal’s Bayern Munich 2-0.

That’s one-nil to the Portuguese then, but the old fable of the master teaching his student everything he knew apart from how to climb a tree certainly comes to mind.

Furthermore, there’s something intoxicatingly dangerous about LVG’s Manchester United, in the sense that they’re an unknown quantity.

A shaky defence is juxtaposed by an incredible attacking cast, capable of turning half-chances or even quarter-chances into world-class goals. Chelsea possess the most resilient and organised starting XI in the league, but even they will struggle to contain the netting prowess of Robin van Persie, Juan Mata, Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria – all they require is a slim, slithered view of the inner netting.

Conflicting results against weaker sides, the fact United are yet to come up against any serious opposition this season and the immeasurable power of the club’s history further adds to the feeling of ambiguity.

What are Chelsea actually preparing for? The old, rugged, determined United? The new breed of world-class attackers? A shambolic XI of youngsters and foreigners? Dark horses, or just a pony show? Should they proceed with caution, or lay out the onslaught from the opening whistle?

That’s the ultimate dilemma Mourinho faces – what weapon of Chelsea’s exceptionally varied armoury to utilise first – in addition to outthinking a manager that’s unquestionably influenced his own career in terms of philosophies, methods, style and opportunities.

Not too many managers in world football have something over Jose Mourinho. But on Sunday afternoon, in the back of his mind will be the fact Louis van Gaal belongs to that very elite club.

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