Chelsea vs Manchester United - The 5 Key Battles To Watch

To Stamford Bridge go Louis van Gaal's thundering redeemers on Sunday, intent on affirming Manchester United's heady rise to relevance against a Jose Mourinho team who would be kings this season.

Nobody can stop Chelsea winning the title. Mourinho is not Kevin Keegan and his squad of clinical, battle-hardened assassins are not Newcastle of the mid-1990s. How Keegan could have used a Nemanja Matic back then.

Forget the title race. This game is about whether United can speak to the kind of progress that will see Van Gaal's red and white army returned to where they once belonged - as a genuine Premier League powerhouse. Or whether, instead, we'll see a show of force from Chelsea that reasserts a superiority that was so blindingly obvious just weeks ago.

The narrative is sweet, and to season Sunday's late afternoon feast, here are five key battles to watch.


1. Branislav Ivanovic vs. Marouane Fellaini

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League : News Photo

Fellaini is the poster child of United's recent revival. The big man has been restored to the role he thrived in with Everton, and been eating holding midfielders and fullbacks for breakfast during United's recent run.

Watch, as ever, for Fellaini's attempts to match himself with a smaller man at the far post, and do so knowing that Ivanovic will be frothing at the mouth to be on the other side of the contest.

The pair might not come into contact too often in midfield areas, but as Fellaini's giant form looms in the area, it may very well be Ivanovic who's tasked with denying the Belgian a silver platter of eight-foot-tall headers. 


2. Eden Hazard vs. Antonio Valencia

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League : News Photo

Eden Hazard is enjoying arguably his best campaign to date in the Premier League. Favourite to be crowned player of the season, the fleet-footed forward has offered up 12 goals and eight assists in the league so far.

His speed on the break will be countered by that of United's right-back Valencia on Sunday, who will likely be asked to track Hazard if he cuts inside - as he inevitably will.

The job of Hazard will fall to more than just Valencia, of course, but containing the explosive influence of the Belgian will be fundamental to United's chances of getting a result.


3. John Terry vs. Wayne Rooney


A wonderfully old-school clash of English football stalwarts to look forward to here, as Rooney leads the United line against Chelsea's evergreen captain, leader, legend, Terry.

Rooney struggled somewhat for influence in a similar role against Manchester City, so will be chomping at the bit to make a big impression against Terry, Gary Cahill and Co. Terry, meanwhile, remains remarkably resistant to the passing of time and knows Rooney as well as any central defender he comes up against.

If Rooney drops deeper to collect possession, we can expect Matic to join the party stopping him also.


4. Loic Remy vs. Phil Jones

Manchester United v Manchester City - Premier League : News Photo

With Diego Costa injured, Mourinho will likely start Remy against United, providing he's deemed back to full fitness.

Remy might not carry the hitman fear factor of Costa, but he's got pace to burn and a directness to his game that will demand Jones and his defensive partner Chris Smalling are at their very sharpest.

Jones certainly doesn't want to pick up an early yellow card in this one, with the runs of Remy, Hazard, Oscar and others to contend with. 


5. Cesc Fabregas vs. Ander Herrera


An all-Spanish affair to finish, with Fabregas and Herrera both looking to assert their creative influence on the game and neither afraid to stick a boot in.

Herrera has arguably been United's best player of late - incisive in his distribution, bold in the tackle and delivering goals into the bargain like a latter day Bryan Robson.

Some have questioned whether Fabregas' form may have dropped off, meanwhile, which sets up the perfect opportunity for Cesc to drop the hammer and show Herrera what it really means to thrive in the Premier League.


Bonus battle: Mourinho vs. Van Gaal

Bayern Munich's Dutch head coach Louis v : News Photo

These two managers are old friends with "a special bond", so says Van Gaal, but all sympathies will be put aside for their coming together at the weekend.

Here we have a pair of coaches who pride themselves in being smarter than the rest. Both will be busy at work on their tactical blueprints, doing everything possible to publicly outsmart their opposite number before an audience of millions.

Mourinho will be reading the praise that's coming to Van Gaal, and he'll desperately want to take back the headlines. Van Gaal will be looking to put Mourinho in his place and lay down a marker for next season.

All things considered, you get the feeling we could be in for a good one on Sunday.

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