How times have changed. Chelsea host Manchester United on Sunday evening, a sentence that would normally be followed by “top of the table clash”, “title decider”, “six pointer” or even “the biggest match of the season”.
Ah well, we shall have to accept what it is---a club hoping to make the top four taking on a club hoping to finish in the top half of the table.
When David Moyes was sacked as Manchester United manager in April 2014, it seemed unlikely that there would be a worse title defence than what the Red Devils had managed, with the Scotsman managing to take just five points from a possible 24 against Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal (the top four at the time of his sacking).
Fast forward nearly two years and Chelsea, the current defending champions, find themselves 13th, just hoping to make the Europa League spots and both clubs know the mountain just got steeper in their task of regaining the Premier League title with Manchester City winning the race to sign Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola.
But to say then, that the match won’t be as special or entertaining as it always has been, would be misguided. History wouldn’t have that. Chelsea have managed to go on an eight-game unbeaten run under interim coach Guus Hiddink, and United too showed glimpses of their old self in the 3-0 win over Stoke City in midweek. The team attacked with pace and intent, and showed how much of a difference a few weeks can make, easing the pressure on Louis Van Gaal.
Chelsea loan signing Alexandre Pato could also get his baptism of fire against the Reds, but the focus will firmly be on Chelsea’s Diego Costa and United’s Wayne Rooney. The former is returning to his best and worst self while the latter has scored seven goals in the last seven games for Louis van Gaal’s side. Their performance, or lack of, could prove to be the decider.