Sunday’s big fixture in the English Premier League serves up soccer’s version of the Chargers/Raiders rivalry. Manchester United will host Chelsea and these sides do not like each other. The rivalry isn’t especially old and particularly by the standard of a sport that has been played professionally in England for well over 100 years. It really heated up in the late 1990’s thanks to the profound oil and water clash of personalities between Chelsea skipper Jose Mourinho and Man U’s Sir Alex Ferguson.
It might not be at the fever pitch it once was with Chelsea finishing third on last year’s Premiership table while Manchester United settled for sixth. The six points that separated the two teams along with Chelsea’s Europa League title created more qualitative separation than is expected between these two English soccer heavyweights. Chelsea fans are in a state of anticipation with team icon Frank Lampard taking over as manager but Manchester United fans are not happy with their club at the moment. Maybe not in the ‘state of revolt’ that is being seen at Newcastle United but they expected more to be done in the offseason to improve upon last year’s disappointing finish. Instead, there were only three signings and with the exception of the Harry Maguire deal none are considered game changing. There were also only three departures (Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera and Romelu Lukaku) meaning that this year’s Man U side looks much like last year’s.
To be fair, the addition of centre-back Maguire and midfielder Aaron Wan-Bissaka should help improve the team defensively but Manchester United boosters expected wholesale improvements, not incremental ones. The team had a decent preseason which gave their fans a bit of hope but they still haven’t forgotten the run of futility near the end of last season when they won only 1 of their last 9 in all competitions. During that stretch, they lost six times. Making matters all the more dire, they’ve won only 1 of their last 6 at Old Trafford losing 2 of their last 3.
Chelsea’s major issues–losing Eden Hazard and the transfer ban which has forced Lampard to bring in some younger talent from the team’s academy. The Blues finished strong last season, going unbeaten in their last 8 in all competition though it is worth noting that only 3 were victories (one of which was the Europa League final win over Arsenal). Last year, these teams played twice against each other with a pair of draws: 2-2 at Stamford Bridge and 1-1 here. Before that, Manchester United had won the last two head to head at home. Many consider Chelsea a ‘work in progress’ but it’s difficult to see how Manchester United is much better. We’ll take the 1/2 goal on the handicap line meaning we’ll cash if the game once again ends in a draw.