Without a doubt the biggest game this weekend is Manchester United’s trip to Stamford Bridge. My beloved Red Devils go into this match on their hottest run of form since Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge and José Mourinho’s Chelsea will be looking to end any possible hopes of another team claiming this year’s Premier League title. In the reverse fixture, a struggling Manchester United held the mighty Blues to a draw at Old Trafford, but this weekend’s match will showcase a completely different United side.
Louis Van Gaal has to be the most popular man on the red side of Manchester right now. The polarizing Dutch manager has finally figured out how to not only win, but also win in style with the players at his disposal and the six straight Premier League wins has repaid fans’ trust. David De Gea is no longer needed to be United’s saving grace match after match with the midfield clicking into gear. The chemistry on the right between Juan Mata and Ander Herrera has provided a new creative catalyst in attack and the restoration of Wayne Rooney as a forward has seen a return of the traditional attacking style of play that United fans have come to love.
The two biggest stories out of the United camp, however, come from players that many fans thought should have been sold over the summer. Towering Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini has endeared himself to fans and thrived in Van Gaal’s new system after a miserable debut season with the Red Devils last year. Fellaini has become a critical part of the team’s attack and his aerial prowess has perplexed opposing backlines. On the wing, Ashley Young is finally living up to the potential that United saw in him when they signed him from Aston Villa in 2011. A newfound confidence has seen a return of Young’s quick feet and inch perfect crosses. In the latest edition of the Manchester Derby, the English midfielder was by far the best player on the field. His gritty goal to equalize the match paired with his two assists from the wing, one of those finding the head of Fellaini on the back post, led United to a historic 4-2 thrashing of their rivals.
Manchester United look like an unbeatable team at this point in the season and a victory over the London opponents would throw the title race into chaos for the final stretch of the season. De Gea will be called into action far more often in this game than in the previous matches, but the major battle will be in the midfield. If the Red Devil’s midfield combination can continue to assert dominance on matches, United have a real chance of leaving the Bridge with all three points.
There’s a reason that Chelsea has a seven-point lead at the top of the table. They find ways to win games. Even in matches where the Blues are far from their best, as exemplified in last week’s 1-0 win away at QPR, they find a way to scrape together three points. Many would argue that this is the mark of a champion. In the 31 games Chelsea have played this season, only two have ended in a loss and only seven have seen the Blues leave with just one point. At Stamford Bridge, the record is even more daunting. Only three times out of 15 have the Blues dropped points at home, and none of those games ended with a defeat for the hosts.
A major reason for Chelsea’s amazing league position is the man standing between the pipes. Thibaut Courtois is arguably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League right now and he’s only 22 years old. The Belgian goalie has managed to keep an astounding 12 clean sheets this season, and has only conceded 31 goals in his 34 appearances (averaging 0.9 goals against per game). In his last game against United, Courtois stopped a season-high six shots, and he will face an even more difficult test this time around.
I think it’s impossible not to respect the talent of Eden Hazard. Chelsea’s midfield magician can turn the game on its head, seemingly, whenever he wants. His pace and creativity must always be accounted for by opposing managers and defenders which opens up the field for players like Cesc Fàbregas and Diego Costa to further terrorize the opposition. The Belgian has scored 12 times this season while also managing to record eight assists. United’s wing backs will have their hands full all day Saturday and will need a superb performance to contain Hazard’s magisterial talent.
Call me crazy but I’m picking United to win this match and hand Chelsea their first loss at the Bridge this season. It will be a historic day for the Red Devils and it will give Arsenal fans hope of claiming their first Premier League title since the Invincibles of 2004. A highlight reel display from De Gea in net and a gritty goal for the visitors will earn the Red Devils an amazing 1-0 victory.