Manchester United v Chelsea, Premier League, April 3, 2010
Before you place your hard earned money with Titan on this top of the table clash, bear in mind the following two statistics:
– Manchester United have won 10 of their last 11 Premier League games without Wayne Rooney, drawing the other (includes matches from 2008/2009).
– Dimitar Berbatov has scored eight goals in his last nine Premier League starts for Manchester United.
The spectre of Wayne Rooney hangs heavy over this match and Chelsea fans will be thankful that Englandâ€™s best player looks set to miss the majority of Manchester Unitedâ€™s remaining games but should be fit for the World Cup.
In terms of timing, Wazzaâ€™s injury could not have occurred at a worse juncture for Sir Alex Ferguson with a slew of big games coming up where the 34-goal striker would have had a big part to play. The second leg against Bayern Munich is next up after the Blues and then tricky Premier League matches against Blackburn and Manchester City then have to be negotiated with Chelsea and Arsenal snapping at their heels. (Manchester United are to 1.95 win the Premier League, 5.00 to win the Champions League.)
But, and this should probably have been a motto for the Premier League era, write off Manchester United at your peril. Before the defeat in Germany, the Red Devils had won their previous seven games, including two without Rooney at Wolves and Bolton last week, where his replacement Berbatov claimed a brace.
Aside from the enforced change of Berbatov for Rooney, Rafael could also come in for Gary Neville who had a difficult night in Bavaria keeping up with Franck Ribery. Luis Antonio Valencia may also be due a recall after playing just 20 minutes in Munich and Ji-Sung Park could be switched into a more central role where he excelled in the recent home game against Liverpool.
Sir Alex Ferguson also has a joker up his sleeve for the remaining games of the season. With Michael Owen and Danny Welbeck out injured the return of Federico Macheda to the Manchester United squad for the win at Bolton last week came at an opportune time. The visit of Chelsea comes just a year minus two days since the Italian striker scored his famous late winner against Aston Villa last season.
Just weeks after they were defeated by former boss Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti brings his Chelsea side to Old Trafford on a high. The disappointing draw with Blackburn after the defeat to Inter Milan has been long forgotten thanks to the 5-0 mauling of Portsmouth and the hugely impressive 7-1 demolition of Aston Villa last week. (Chelsea are to 2.40 win the Premier League)
The Blues, who didnâ€™t play in midweek, now have a better goal difference than United having scored twelve in their last two games. Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard have stood out in the two most recent victories and Didier Drogba will return to the line-up after he was rested despite the fact Chelsea banged in the goals this season when the Ivorian has been unavailable.
The return of Petr Cech can not be underestimated in big games such as this and the rest of the Chelsea team more or less picks itself. Ancelottiâ€™s main dilemma will be who to drop for Drogba (although reports on Thursday suggest the Ivorian may miss out through injury) with Joe Cole the likely candidate from the team that started against Villa.
United should take encouragement from the fact that Chelsea look a little vulnerable on the wings. Paulo Ferreira is Chelseaâ€™s third choice setback and has never totally convinced whilst Yuri Zhirkov could have a tough time against Valencia if he starts on the right.
The Blues will though be confident of snatching a crucial victory as they did thanks to a John Terry header to secure a 1-0 win (7.42) in November. If Chelsea can claim a win at Old Trafford for the first time since May 2005 they would go two points clear of United in the league and leave Arsenal ready to pounce with the Gunners facing a home game against Wolves on Saturday.
The home side though seem to hold the edge and almost always return from adversity with a victory. Would anyone be surprised if United outclassed Chelsea again, as they have done in recent years, and secured a crucial victory without Rooney?
101gg predicts: Manchester United 1 â€“ Chelsea 0 (6.98)