Manchester United vs. Chelsea will teach us nothing

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Manchester United vs. Chelsea has a lot of potential to be a great game, but we're unlikely to find out much about either side.

People seem to forget that dominant title-winning teams of old, from Alex Ferguson's United to The Invincibles to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, used to make them cry all sorts of tears through the season. Frustration, resentment, jealousy and anger set in watching teams lose a couple of season and finish miles ahead at the top, although in an era of imperfect champions there seems to be a longing for a team of that kind to return again.

One benefit of this kind of team being in existence was in the brief periods when two such beasts overlapped, and genuinely great games resulted. This era was at it's zenith during the age of great United-Arsenal clashes, so recent yet seeming so far away that teams containing Robert Pires can still get talked about with an "ah, those were the days son, when men were men" wistfulness.

Manchester United and Chelsea are a long way from being as invulnerable as either of those two sides, but they may produce a sort of bastardised version of their best performances. Unless Robin van Persie breaks his leg, this match is not a decisive encounter, or even an important clash or anything from which there is particularly much to be learned. Both teams will have severe nerves, but also very little to lose. A frantic game is a clear possibility, and ending the game with 22 players on the pitch seems unlikely.

All three of the realistic challengers are doing so with new men at the helm and not one of the three seems to have the resources for such a flawless side to be forged. Moyes, Pellegrini and Mourinho will all plan for their sides to ascend into the ranks of those all-conquering team, but this season will be the first hurdle on the journey, where they determine whether or not the present outfit has it in them.

It's difficult to see any of the present outfits doing that in their current form, all being deeply flawed in a manner that is not easily solved, and possessing a handful of best-in-the-league players rather than one overpowering unit, like an impenetrable back four or all-conquering midfield. In addition, the rest of the league is far stronger than it used to be, with money spent at the top not appearing to go as far as that spent in the middle.

Whether we'll ever see a return to those days depend on whether one of the trio of managers can realise his long-term plans, but at the moment we know nothing. Received wisdom states that Mourinho triumphed over Ferguson at first by ignoring the 'slow start' notion and picking up as many points as possible from the off, but that was only legitimate for a team that so rarely made mistakes. We'll not know any more about either side after tomorrow, and the likelihood is the three points won or lost will very quickly be lost or retaken.

That will all go to the wayside to make up for what could be a highly bad-tempered atmosphere. Mourinho's rumoured rejection by United will sour the experience for him, while Moyes will know that his "i'm looking forward to having José at Old Trafford" comments were shared by a lot of United supporters in June. The game is likely to produce, as the old Seinfeld motto goes, no hugging and no learning. And we should all be happy with that.

* * *

Joe Hart's appetite for mistakes has perhaps finally caught up with his appetite for obnoxiousness, and he may be reaching a point of scrutiny where every soft goal Manchester City concede is analysed for his potential culpability, or accompanied with an "If David de Gea did that." Amusingly, his talent for blunders appeared to be birthed at exactly the moment he was proclaimed as England's number one for the foreseeable future.

If Hart's form does not improve throughout the season, they simply will not win the league. A rest from the national team could be forthcoming if so, too, but having spent £90m this summer, a couple of million on a solid and dependable backup might end up saving City more points than any of their other acquisitions.

* * *

Televised football has arguably been on a downward trajectory ever since Jimmy Hill had the idea of assembling a collection of talking heads at half-time to pore over the game. Jimmy Hill being Jimmy Hill, his imagined guests were not the most interesting of men, and we've stuck dogmatically to that blueprint ever since, the only additions being technological, at which point it got even worse.

The weakness and futility of tactical and statistical analysis in football is well-documented, but the half-time show is not seen by TV producers as some awkward filler - somewhere in a more civilised dimension perhaps we have a musical interlude here, or a period of quiet reflection - but rather as actually part of the experience itself. What this means is that having Gary Neville wave his hands around a touch-screen to fast-forward and rewind video footage is seen as a legitimate form of entertainment. Up there with opera, or film, or whatever.

And so now, as you might expect from anyone who sees a parallel between Götterdämmerung and Andy Townsend, they've found a way to make it worse. Sky have apparently decided that what televised football was really, really missing was a live studio audience. Just imagine being the sort of person who willingly pays money - real money, which can be freely exchanged for goods and services - and inconveniences themselves to go to this. Imagine who'd go along if they got a ticket for free. Imagine who'd go along if it was at the bottom of their garden. Imagine who'd find themselves there by accident and not walk out. These are the people who the game is for.

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