Sunday afternoon sees the big matchup of the weekend, with Manchester United taking on Chelsea at Old Trafford and Juan Mata lining up against his old Chelsea team-mates.
When this fixture was played last season, on a Monday night in August 26th, 2013, David Moyes was seeking a win in his first competitive home game since succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson, after a comfortable 1-4 opening day away victory to Swansea City. José Mourinho was planning a third successive league match win since returning to Chelsea and the dice looked loaded for a thrilling encounter at Old Trafford.
Sadly it wasn’t to be, a lacklustre effort from both sides (with the exception of Wayne Rooney), resulted in an anti-climactic 0-0 draw as the Manchester ground witnessed its first goalless draw in the Premier League since May 2009. The highlight of the game was the vociferous support Rooney got from both sections of supporters; from the visiting Chelsea fans, who felt that Mourinho could entice the striker south to London and the home support, vigorously encouraging him to stay and continue to be their talisman. We all know who won that battle.
To see what fans of both Clubs may be thinking about the fixture this season, we looked at the Beat Your Manager! Fantasy Football data from this game last season, to see what players were picked for the lineups last year.
Beat Your Manager! Fantasy Football is a game similar to “Football Manager”, but applied to live football, where you manage your favourite Club and pick lineups, bench, formations and substitutions, all in real-time. When fans play the game, the Beat Your Manager team can measure the popularity of different players, by looking at how frequently they are selected for the starting lineup, substitutes bench or not selected at all.
The app ran for the 2013/4 EPL season and is currently inactive while the developers are creating the revised version – watch this space!
Goalkeeper: De Gea and Cech in goal, but 2nd-choice keepers make inroads with fans
Fans of both Clubs did not go for any surprises in goal, with both team’s regular number 1 selected for duty and fairly closely rated by fans; David De Gea in for Man United (77 per cent rating) and Petr Cech for Chelsea (72 per cent rating).
However, Anders Lindegaard (23 per cent) and Mark Schwarzer (28 per cent) were chosen for the lineup by a substantial minority of fans, which should keep the first-choice boys on their toes.
Both real-life Managers agreed with fans, going for the identical options between the posts.
Defence: No changes between Man United fans and Manager; Mourinho a different story
Nemanja Vidić was United’s most popular defender (and 3rd-most popular player) with MUFC fans, polling a 94 per cent rating for the lineup, with Rio Ferdinand close behind, on 87 per cent. Patrice Evra was next in line for the home fans, on 72 per cent, while Phil Jones (65 per cent) made up the last spot in the back four, Jonny Evans (52 per cent) the only other United defender to register any sort of a reasonable rating with fans.
Chelsea’s most popular back four with fans consisted of a clear-cut choice in the first two positions; David Luiz (88 per cent) and Ashley Cole (close behind on 84 per cent) leading the charge with Chelsea fans. After Cole, approval ratings for Chelsea’s defenders dropped drastically; with Gary Cahill (66 per cent) and César Azpilicueta (63 per cent) rated closely together, but much further down the pecking order.
Moyes was enjoying a positive spell with the Man United faithful after their hammering of Swansea and made no changes to the defence selected by the fans on the composition of the defence, while Mourinho made two changes; bringing in John Terry (47 per cent fan rating) instead of Luiz and fielding Branislav Ivanovic (50 per cent fan rating) ahead of Azpilicueta.
With Louis Van Gaal now installed instead of Moyes and only Phil Jones still at the club, United’s back four is going to look distinctly different this year, especially as the Dutchman can call on the skills of Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and even Daley Blind’s Monday evening goalscoring exploits. Mourinho is still in situ with Chelsea, but Chelsea’s back line will also look substantially different, with both fan favourites for this game last season (Luiz, Cole) now playing at foreign clubs.
Midfield: Both Managers make one midfield switch to fans lineup
Michael Carrick was United’s most popular midfielder, with an impressive 98 per cent rating approval, making him the club’s 2nd most popular player for this match.
Shinji Kagawa was substantially behind Mata, but still got the nod from 79 per cent of United fans, with Tom Cleverley (73 per cent) close behind. Antonio Valencia took up the fourth midfielder spot, on a slightly-above average 53 per cent rating from fans. With Ashley Young and Darren Fletcher still out on lengthy injury spells and Adnan Januzaj still to make an impression on the Stretford End faithful, the rest of United’s midfield got very poor ratings.
Similarly to United, Chelsea fans had a clear midfield favourite in Oscar, who topped the poll with a 91 per cent fan rating, making him the club’s 2nd-most popular player for this match.
Now at Manchester City, Frank Lampard was the average Chelsea fans’ 2nd choice in midfield for this game last season, slotting in substantially behind Oscar, but well ahead of Ramires (59 per cent) and surely one of United’s lineup on Saturday; Juan Mata (56 per cent).
Last season, Mourinho sidelined Mata for most games, until eventually offloading him to United and this match was no different; the Portuguese making one switch from the fans, starting Kevin De Bruyne (19 per cent fan rating) instead of Mata. Moyes also made one switch to the fans; dropping Kagawa to accommodate the remaining three fan-picked players upfront.
Saturday’s midfield will see as many changes as the defence; Kagawa and Cleverley have been offloaded to Borussia Dortmund and Aston Villa respectively, while Mata has switched between the two clubs. Chelsea are also missing Lampard but have added Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona to swell the ranks, while United have made their biggest acquisitions in midfield, with Blind, Ángel di María and Ander Herrera all expected to play a role
Forwards: Lot’s of changes upfront as well
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was the most popular striker on the pitch, with a perfect 100 per cent rating from Blues fans.
United’s Robin van Persie was extremely close behind, on 99 per cent with the Red Devils, while his colleague Wayne Rooney lagged a bit behind, at 75 per cent. Another player sidelined by Mourinho, but impressing at loan clubs West Brom and Everton was Romelu Lukaku, who made the cut for the lineup for 63 per cent of Chelsea fans.
Mourinho also started Hazard, but fielded Fernando Torres (44 per cent) instead of fan-choice Lukaku. With a three-man midfield, Moyes fielded Welbeck (48 per cent fan rating) to partner fan-picks van Persie and Rooney upfront, but was still not rewarded by goals in this game.
Welbeck has moved to Arsenal but United have brought in Falcao, so Van Gaal has added attacking potential upfront, should he also go for a three-man forward line. Mourinho has overseen a much larger clear-out of strikers, with Torres, Lukaku, Demba Ba (9 per cent rating for this match) and Samuel Eto’o (still with Anzhi Makhachkala when this match was played last year) now moved on to pastures new. However, new signings Diego Costa (from Atlético Madrid) and Loic Remy (QPR), not to mention the return of the king (Didier Drogba, from Galatasaray) has meant that Chelsea’s forward line is stronger than it has been for some time.
Last season, this eagerly-anticipated clash petered out into a damp squib; with the added firepower in midfield and particularly upfront, it’s hard to see this weekend’s clash turning out the same. Not one to be missed.