Stamford Bridge is Manchester United’s boogey ground. United’s premier league record at the home of Chelsea is no different to that of an alsoran in the division. At no other ground, does the club kickoff a league match with an inferior head to head record. In the least 9 seasons alone, United have just the one win to show for their efforts in the blue quarter of West London—and even then, Chelsea had to be reduced to 9 men to ensure United came away with all three points.
Regardless the pattern of results at the Bridge, United have often come away with more dignity than they did last season. Losing 4-0, even to the eventual Champions falls comfortably in the realms of an unacceptable league result. It hurt. It was possibly double jeopardy for Jose Mourinho who took offence to Antonio Conte’s wild celebrations as the fourth goal went in. The narrative was that Jose’s modus operandi had outlived its sell-by date and that Conte was on a mission to make all things blue new. It sparked techy media briefings afterwards, with the Portuguese accusing the media of attempting to ‘erase’ 16 years of his career. Of course, Jose, driven by his ego, would wait patiently for Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford. The rest is history.
Last weekend against Spurs, Manchester United fed off the hunger and desire from the fans in the terraces to will their way past a very good Tottenham Hotspur side. Indeed, the manner of their dismantling of Real Madrid in mid-week added belated credit to United’s weekend achievement. And yet, all that could go to waste if the club succumbs to history on Sunday. The horror result at Huddersfield has left United with little margin for error. The only way it can be rectified is by picking up three points at a venue we would ordinarily not have expected much. Defeat on Sunday would call to mind the carelessness with which United dropped three easy points at the John Smith Stadium.
With City taking on Arsenal before we kick-off, United will be aware of exactly what they need to keep themselves within reach of their rivals. Ever since the premier league became about the top six and not just the top four, the number of high stakes games in the season increased to 10. That’s 30 points to be dug out of cagey games, much like the Liverpool and Spurs games. It therefore holds true that the premier league is more competitive than ever before.
Chelsea, by their status as defending Champions, have struggled so far. Indeed, it is an indictment on their season that Sunday is about retaining an iota of relevance in the title race. Defeat would effectively see them give up their title in early November. This, more than anything, is potentially why United will have a battle on their hands. They’re fighting for their proverbial lives and so anybody that thinks they’ll be there for the taking on the back of their midweek defeat in Rome is kidding themselves.
Ahead of the last International break of the year, the gap between first and second can be 2 points, 3 points, 5 points or 8 points. United will have to channel the spirit and determination showed last week against Spurs to avoid the latter scenario. What’s for certain is that cannot be half as bad as last season. The hope though is for much better.