IT MAY BE only 10 days into the new Premier League campaign but when Chelsea travel to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United this evening it can rightly be billed as as the biggest game of the fledgling season.
Of course, the result is not likely to have much of an impact on the title race with both sides having almost an entire season to recover from defeat, but that doesn’t mean new United boss David Moyes wouldn’t love to win over the Old Trafford faithful with a marquee victory.
Likewise, nothing would please Jose Mourinho more than to show want-away Wayne Rooney just what could be missing in the second incarnation of the Mourinho Chelsea revolution.
With that in mind, here are three key battles that could go a long way to deciding tonight’s game.
Gary Cahill v Robin van Persie
It would be ridiculous for Mourinho to task the aging John Terry with the job of keeping the prolific van Persie – five goals in six games for club and country already this year – quiet for the evening.
Instead, the job will probably fall to 27-year old Cahill who will want to sit on the heels of the Dutch striker as much as possible.
For van Persie, latching on to long balls over the top of Cahill and John Terry and freeing up space for Danny Welbeck, could well prove to be his most important contribution of the night.
Michael Carrick v Oscar
Despite bids for Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas, United have been unable to bring in anything resembling a world class midfielder during this Summer.
However, they can call upon the experienced Carrick to sit in front of the back four in an effort to contain the attacking threats posed by the likes of Oscard, Eden Hazard, Frank Lampard and Kevin de Bruyne.
Whatever midfield Mourinho opts for, Oscar is likely to play a key role and if the Brazilian maestro keeps up the impressive vision and link-up play that have been highlights of his early season form, it could be a long night for Carrick and the home fans.
Patrice Evra v Eden Hazard
Time is getting away from Patrice Evra but, with United looking to replace him with Leighton Baines, tonight could represent one last chance for the Frenchman to show David Moyes how valuable he can still be.
While Hazard is undoubtedly a major attacking threat for the visitors, he may well be asked to operate down Chelsea’s right flank tonight to rein in any thoughts the 32-year old may have of racing forward to help the United attack.
Few players could match the success Hazard had dribbling past defenders in the Premier League last season and, if he can get by Evra, his ability to create goal chances for team-mates (he created more than 60 such chances last season) will trouble United.