Jose Mourinho is refusing to take Manchester United lightly, despite the fact that they go into Sunday’s meeting with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge nine points behind the blues and 11 points adrift of the Premier League summit. Indeed, while the teams are so far apart in the standings, as United have toiled under the charge of David Moyes, Mourinho believes that their stature means it remains an important, and difficult, showdown.
“Read the match program, my notes,” he said in his pre-match press conference, according to Chelsea’s official website. “I start by saying we don't play against a team that are 11 points behind the leader, we play against the champions, we play against Manchester United.
“That's the way I start my notes in the program and that's exactly the way I feel. I've been in the game a long time, I've played dozens and dozens of derbies and classic matches, games between the big teams and that's what experience says. On many occasions, the team that looks to be in the most difficult situation appears stronger in the match, that's why I consider this game especially dangerous.”
Chelsea are likely to head into the match full of confidence following a run of six straight wins in all competitions. Key to the recent upturn in results has been a much-improved defense that has shipped just one goal in their last seven matches. Having briefly flirted with a less cautious approach, Mourinho has reverted to the fundamentals that have severed him so well throughout his career. Despite still failing to produce praise-worthy performances and their own manager continuing to play down their prospects, Chelsea are within striking distance of the top of the Premier League.
Chelsea have moved to boost their squad this week by bringing midfielder Nemanja Matic back from Benfica for a little over £20 million. It is likely that at most the Serbian will be handed a place on the bench on Sunday, however. One man that definitely won’t be involved is Ryan Bertrand, with the left-back having been allowed to leave on loan to Aston Villa for the rest of the season. On the injury front, Frank Lampard is back in contention, but Branislav Ivanovic is unlikely to be involved, despite returning to training on Friday.
Manchester United’s injury problems are beginning to clear, with Jonny Evans back in contention and Phil Jones also close to a return. Marouane Fellaini, meanwhile, will have his cast removed on his wrist next week. However, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie will remain absent for the heavyweight clash with Chelsea, although Moyes is optimistic that the forward duo will soon be back in action.
“I don’t want to put a date on it just now as I don’t want to say he’ll [Rooney] be fit for whatever game and then I find he’s not, but we’ve just got to take it bit by bit,” he said, in quotes reported by Manchester United’s official website. “I’ve watched him running today; he looks well and is in really good condition.
“I’m hoping Robin has a good chance of training at the start of next week, so if I can get him back out on the grass and back with us, it’ll be a great boost for us all.”
United relieved some of the pressure on Moyes last weekend when they snapped a run of three straight defeats with a 2-0 victory over Swansea City. In the interim, Moyes has been busy on reported scouting missions in Italy and France, yet there remains little sign of any players arriving to aid the club’s struggling squad. There is, though, set to be movement out of Old Trafford, with Anderson poised to join Fiorentina on loan.
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 11 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream provided by NBC Sports Live Extra.