Manchester United v Chelsea: Five key battles

Manchester United host Chelsea this evening in the biggest clash of the Premier League season so far.

It’s a match which won’t be definitive in terms of the season but it’s the first chance for two of the Premier League’s huge sides to throw down a marker of intent and to make a statement ahead of what is bound to be a long and testing season.

The build-up to the match has been dominated by the speculation surrounding the future of United striker Wayne Rooney. Rooney continues to be linked with a switch to Chelsea and it’s unclear whether United manager David Moyes will use him for this fixture.

Several reports have suggested that a possible third bid for the player could be lodged by the Blues just ahead of the match as a mind game tactic by Jose Mourinho. However, rather than talk about players who may not be involved, there are going to be several key match ups all over the pitch which will go a long way to deciding the final result.

David De Gea v Petr Cech

In big matches like this sides always need their goalkeepers to be on top form.

De Gea seems to have eased the fears over whether he’s good enough and strong enough to play Premier League football for the rest of his career. He comes up with important saves at vital times which are making the difference.

As for Cech, Chelsea know exactly what they are going to get from him and that strength from the very back of the team helps the back four and leaves the side with a very good basic strength which they can build on.

Rio Ferdinand v Fernando Torres

It’s a bit difficult to predict which striker Mourinho will go with for this match but with his tendency to play a few mind games, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Torres started this match considering his Liverpool past and the fact he started the season as Chelsea’s main man in attack.

The job for Ferdinand is simply producing the form and consistency which he’s shown in abundance over the course of last season and so far this season. Ferdinand may have to drop a little deeper to compensate for his lack of pace.

Michael Carrick v Frank Lampard

It’s a big ask for Frank Lampard to play again so soon following his mid-week appearance in the win over Aston Villa but he’s arguably the most important player in the middle of Chelsea’s team.

Michael Carrick just has to do all of the basics well as he tries to keep him quiet. Carrick is superb when it comes to stepping in and making interceptions, reading the play and generally controlling the pace of play through the middle of United’s team. If he can do all of those jobs well, Lampard’s influence should be muted.

Antonio Valencia v Ashley Cole

Valencia will more than likely start this game because his defensive side will help when Cole runs up the left wing, looking to get involved in Chelsea’s attacking player.

Valencia has certainly been guilty of inconsistency in the recent patch of his career but he is very capable of giving Cole a hard time. If Valencia can keep Cole pinned inside his own defensive third, he cuts off a supply line for the midfield and reduces the number of outlets when Chelsea counter attack.

Robin van Persie v Gary Cahill

If Gary Cahill cannot keep on top of Robin van Persie then expect the Dutchman to have a very successful evening at the office.

Cahill is the more likely out of a centre back partnership to break ranks and follow van Persie around, trying to compensate for his movement because he’s quicker than someone like John Terry.

If Cahill sticks to van Persie like glue then it should ensure that the United attack stays very quiet, which could force Moyes into tactical changes.

What are your key battles? What’s your prediction for the match?

image: © Paolo Camera

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