Sunday the 18th of September sees reigning Premier League Champions, Manchester United, take on last season’s runners up, Chelsea. Both teams are undefeated in their four League games so far, dropping just two points between them and scoring a total of 25 goals. The match at Old Trafford pitches two genuine title challengers against each other, but will United continue their blistering form, or can Chelsea keep up their quiet efficiency?
The Blues enjoyed a comfortable Champions League run out in midweek, beating Bayer Leverkusen 2-0. The win means that the West Londoners have won all but one of their competitive fixtures so far this season. The biggest news in midweek however, was the resting of Frank Lampard and John Terry. The two England stalwarts have been the foundation stones for Chelsea over the last decade, and it remains to be seen if Coach Andre Villas-Boas was indeed, ‘resting’ his star Englishmen, or whether he sees a future without them.
The other major talking point where Chelsea are concerned is up front. Fernando Torres is yet to rediscover his best form, but his manager has absolute faith in him and for now, Nicolas Anelka must make do with a place on the bench. A fit Didier Drogba may force his way into the side, but his recent injury eases the pressure on Torres just a little. The major highlight for the Blues has been the form of Daniel Sturridge. The young starlet has spent some time out on loan in the past, most successfully at Bolton last season, and he has looked lively playing in a wider advanced role back at Stamford Bridge. On Tuesday against Leverkusen, this was as part of a front three alongside Mata and Torres.
United have blasted 18 goals in their opening four games and Wayne Rooney has helped himself to 8 of those. At the other end of the pitch, it might have been assumed that injuries to Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand would leave the Reds vulnerable at the back, but Johnny Evans and Chris Smalling have stepped in, and alongside Phil Jones, the defensive stability has remained.
This lightning start to the season has seen the reigning champions move straight back to the top of the table, exactly where they finished up last season. The demolition of Arsenal illustrates the strides United have made and confirms Sir Alex Ferguson’s desire to improve his team after seeing his charges outclassed by Barcelona in the Champions League final last May.
In Ashley Young and Nani, United boast two of the quickest counter attacking footballers in the League and having sat out the Champions League trip to Portugal to play Benfica, both will be champing at the bit to get back in the team to take on Chelsea.
The match odds market has Manchester United at around 1.91 with Ladbrokes, and the Red Devils are absolutely worthy favourites. Having won all four League games, they are clearly in form, and their record at home has been impeccable for some time. From the 19 home games in 2010/11, United won 18 and drew 1. That record is impressive and Chelsea are under no illusions as to the task they face.
Coach Villas-Boas said after his side’s Champions League win that the Old Trafford fixture would provide a “different challenge” and reading between the lines, it might be surmised that the Portuguese Coach has a very specific game plan to try and disrupt what has been a well oiled Manchester United team so far in 2011/12.
A best price about Chelsea of 5.0 (at Ladbrokes) is also pretty fair. That suggests the Blues might win 20% of the time and it is difficult to argue with that, given the class and talent available to Chelsea. Any one of Juan Mata, Fernando Torres, Daniel Sturridge or Flourent Malouda can win a match with a single moment of inspiration. With the draw a best price of 3.7 at Betfair, the bookies are not giving too much away.
If Chelsea surrender possession as carelessly as they did at times against Bayer Leverkusen, then the swift counter punch that United possess will be very difficult to resist, and Young and Nani will have a field day. However, if Villas-Boas has a game plan up his sleeve, and the Blues can retain the ball and build some momentum of their own, then we may see a real cagey, almost ‘European’ game. Either way, the edge has to be with United, at 1.91 they now look a good value bet, as that price suggests they will prevail 52% of the time.
Better value may exists away from the match odds. First Scorer is one area where value might be on offer. With Wayne Rooney banging in goals more often than he puts his boots on, his inevitable short price (9/2 at Stan James) means larger than usual odds about the rest.
One name of interest could be Daniel Sturridge. The young striker has been playing without fear and in stark contrast to his illustrious strike partner Fernando Torres, Sturridge has also shown plenty of confidence. He has already displayed his willingness to shoot from distance and he is more than capable of finding the target. With David De Gea still trying to convince Sir Alex Ferguson that he is an adequate replacement for Edwin Van Der Sar, and with the Blues likely to try their luck from distance if they find themselves struggling to create chances or spend time in United’s final third, Sturridge may offer a good value punt at 17/2 with Bet365.
Another potential impact player is David Luiz. After notching a classy goal for the Blues in midweek, all eyes will be on the Old Trafford team sheet to see if Luiz and Ivanovic retain their spots or whether John Terry returns to the side. The selection of Luiz would not be of interest from a goal scoring perspective however, but from a discipline point of view.
Luiz rode his luck in the Champions League game, finally picking up a booking for a clear tug of an opponents jersey, and this could easily have been his second yellow of the night, as he was fortunate to escape punishment for an earlier incident. He also suffered from a poor disciplinary record last season – the abrasive style is nothing new. So punters who favour booking /sending off indexes or markets should keep a keen eye on Andre Villas-Boas’ selection as the heightened tension of this game may tip Luiz over the edge. The odds on a sending off are 3.85 with Betfair.