Just under a year ago Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea beat Manchester United 2-1 to – ultimately unsuccessfully – wrestle their way back into the title race.
Fast forward 11 months and four straight defeats to the Mancunians later this weekend’s fixture holds equal significance for Chelsea albeit for markedly different reasons.
Whilst, United are again challenging to retain their title, Andre Villas-Boas’ Chelsea are embroiled in a battle to finish fourth and enter next season’s Champions League and with a resurgent Newcastle just three points behind (they could be level at kick off), Arsenal just about in touching distance despite continuing to stutter, and Liverpool beginning to find confidence following a Cup double over the Manchester clubs and a victory at Wolves in the week, the pressure is on to take at least something from the game.
It’d be disrespectful to the problems some of the clubs lower down the footballing pyramid are facing to call not qualifying for the Champions League a crisis, and aside from enjoying the trips abroad, the circus that is the UEFA premier competition has lost a lot of appeal over the last few seasons to some fans. However, given the money the club have invested over the last 9 seasons and the esteem in which our owner holds the competition, as well as the implications of the introduction of FFP and the recent £67 million pound lost posted by the club - it seems imperative that Chelsea are again in Monaco for the draw next August.
In the last month of the season Chelsea host Newcastle before visiting the Emirates and Anfield. Going into it with a considerable points advantage over our rivals would ease the pressure on the side, but to do that Chelsea need to start accumulating points and what better opportunity to lay down a marker with a result again the champions?
Although the recent results in tussles between the sides would suggest a United victory, their shortcomings have been exposed by the likes of Blackburn, Newcastle and Liverpool over the last month or so - and Villas-Boas’ Chelsea have been at their best at home when seemingly under pressure against the likes of Valencia and City.
Equally, even in seasons where we haven’t been challenging, Chelsea have more often than not reserved their best Premier League displays for this fixture - Gavin Peacock goals gave us a home and away league double over the 94 double winners (although the less said about Ellery and the final the better), whilst in 1999 the team who’d won the treble the season before were beaten 5-0 at Stamford Bridge with even Chris Sutton getting on the score sheet.
Sunday’s match might not be a title decider like it has been in recent seasons, but it could play an important part in Chelsea’s future, both financially and on the pitch.
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