An overflow of subplots surrounds an unusually early heavyweight Premier League tussle as Manchester United host Chelsea at 3 p.m. ET on Monday. Both clubs will likely have been less than enthused when the fixture computer paired the two title challengers together in just the second weekend of the season. Yet, now it is here both David Moyes and Jose Mourinho will be fully aware of the importance the match holds to make a strong statement at the beginning of new eras at the two long-time rivals.
Mourinho has been here before, of course. The Portuguese coach was on the winning side against United in his opening Premier League match in charge in his first spell at Chelsea back in 2004. United would subsequently play catch-up to Chelsea throughout the campaign and eventually finish 18 points behind as Mourinho picked up the title in his first season. In his first two years in charge, Mourinho changed the long-held belief that the season didn’t really get going until the after the New Year as his sides were relentless from the off and established leads that their rivals couldn’t haul back.
With Mourinho having taken six points from two games to begin his second spell in west London, Moyes will not be keen to suffer a defeat that would see his side fall behind Chelsea even at this early stage. That is not to say anything for the mental side to the match between the two leading men in the dugouts.
Many had tipped Mourinho, a man who has won championships in four different countries and two European Cups, to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson when the legendary manager eventually stepped down. There was a strong feeling too that Mourinho would have relished being given the opportunity to take the reins at Old Trafford. Instead, Ferguson hand-picked Moyes as his successor, a man who, for all the plaudits he earned at Everton, has never won a trophy and only ever managed two games in the Champions League.
He and the club may have full confidence in his ability to succeed at the highest level, but Moyes will know that going head-to-head with Mourinho on equal terms for the first time represents an opportunity to prove himself to the wider world.
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The stern-faced Scot enjoyed an impressive start to his reign with a 4-1 victory at Swansea City. It was a result that again highlighted Manchester United’s efficiency as well as the importance of Robin van Persie to the side; two prime factors in securing the Premier League title last season. Yet, it was not a virtuoso performance in Wales and certainly didn’t match some of the scintillating attacking play that Chelsea provided in their opening win over Hull City.
Moyes has yet to make any significant signings this summer and he will be leaving himself an uphill task to claim the title in his first season in charge if he is not able to add real quality to the squad before the close of the transfer window. If reports are to be believed one of the quality players that Moyes is interested in bringing in is Chelsea’s Juan Mata. With Mourinho having signed Brazilian attacking midfielder Willian, fresh doubt has been cast on the Spaniard’s future.
But speculation over Mata pails into significance compared to a saga involving Wayne Rooney that has dominated much of the summer. Indeed, Mourinho has said that a third bid from Chelsea for the unsettled forward will be forthcoming after Monday’s clash. His publicly declared interest in Rooney has certainly not impressed Moyes.
Rooney came off the bench last week and, with Danny Welbeck having scored twice, he may have to do so again against the club it is believed he would rather be turning out for. It is Van Persie, though, that has usurped Rooney’s importance to United in the past season. The Dutchman has started this season in the same form that saw him carry United for much of the last campaign. Certainly, he is the kind of clinical marksman that Mourinho would love to have in his side.
There is no doubt that all the other attacking ingredients are there for Chelsea. Even with Willian still to receive his work permit, Chelsea have an array of youthful attacking midfielders that are the envy of most clubs in the world. When the sides met in the FA Cup last season at Old Trafford, it was the introduction of Eden Hazard that swung the match as Chelsea came back to draw 2-2 before winning 1-0 in the replay. The pace and dynamism proved too much that day for a United side that has been lacking those qualities in recent times.
Mourinho will certainly hope that is the case and will try to ensure his side plays at a relentless pace from the first whistle. Yet, the Portuguese coach is still naturally conservative and could well make it a priority to simply avoid leaving Old Trafford with a defeat. And, with the lack of a top-class cutting edge up front and the absence of a dominant central midfielder to take advantage of United’s own weakness in that area, the spoils may well be shared to start what could be a classic rivalry between Mourinho and Moyes.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea
Betting Odds: Manchester United are 11/8 favorites with Bet 365 to get the victory. A Chelsea win is priced at 9/4, with a draw on offer at 12/5.