Four weeks into the Premier League season, both Manchester United and Chelsea look like title contenders. The Red Devils have perhaps been more convincing than their foes, but there's little doubt that the Blues are still contenders this early in the season.
The last time Chelsea played at Old Trafford was in a title decided at the end of last season, in which Manchester United won very convincingly. With Michael Essien injured, no one was capable of stopping Wayne Rooney from receiving the ball and distributing to his teammates when he dropped deep off of Javier Hernandez.
Essien is injured once again, while Rooney looks even better in his trequarista role than he did in May. This should probably make United the slight favorites, but Chelsea have enough talent, an intelligent enough manager and are on good enough form that this is hardly an obvious result.
Last season, Chelsea didn't have a player that roamed in the space between United's defense and midfield. Teams that did this to United last season (e.g. Arsenal at the Emirates, Barcelona) caused them problems because United often get into the habit of defending with two flat bands of four. Lampard is a box-to-box type of player and he typically gets forward only for late-arriving runs at the the top of the box. Chelsea now have Mata and he prefers to operate in this space between the lines. Carrick's positional awareness is a strength and if he starts, he will need to monitor Mata's movement. When out of possession, United must be smart in tracking the movements of the skillful Spaniard and be comfortable in passing him off as he drifts between different zones.
Chelsea blog We Ain't Got No History agrees, but for slightly different reasons. They see right back as a potential weak point for United and think that Mata will be difficult to mark for whoever plays that position.
United's fullbacks will almost certainly be more vulnerable than their central defence. Patrice Evra hasn't had a good game in what now seems like forever, and as talented as Fabio da Silva, Phil Jones and Chris Smallingmay be none of them will be relishing going up against Juan Mata on Chelsea's left flank. Jones and Smalling are still more comfortable as centre backs, and their partnership with Ferdinand should be solid enough - Chelsea have to hit the full backs hard.
The game kicks off at 11:00 am ET, 3:00 pm local time from Old Trafford in Manchester, England. It can be seen on Fox Soccer Channel in the USA and Sky Sports 1 in the UK.
Head on over to Manchester United blog The Busby Babe and Chelsea FC blog We Ain't Got No History for more on the two teams and this match. We'll have coverage of the game and every other match in the Premiership this week in our English Premier League Week 5 StoryStream. For more on the entire world of football, bookmark SB Nation Soccer.