Club Focus – Chelsea – Heavyweights collide as United visit brings renewed rivalry

Chelsea and Manchester United clash this Sunday as the clubs write the latest chapter in their recent history in what will surely be a defining point in the Premier League this season. Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea, in the midst of a well documented ‘crisis’, sit fourth in the table having thrown away their early advantage over United, who took to the summit last week. Both sides have lifted the Premier League trophy three times each since Arsenal went unbeaten in 2003-04, Chelsea triumphing back-to-back between 2004-06 before United won three consecutive titles with the Blues wresting the title back to London last season. Their domestic league battle extends of course to the FA Cup and Europe too. When you throw in the Blues’ 1-0 win over United in the first FA Cup final played at the new Wembley in 2007 and the Red Devils’ penalty shootout victory in the following season’s Champions League final, you have the recipe for one of English football’s most appetising rivalries.

Chelsea have only lost at home to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side once since 1999’s stunning 5-0 thrashing of then treble-holders United. Not since a 3-0 win back in April 2002 have the visitors returned to Manchester victorious, with Chelsea taking all three points in five of their last eight Premier League meetings in London. Last season, John Terry delighted the home fans as he nodded the winner with 14 minutes remaining, a result that proved crucial come May as he lifted the Premier League trophy with the Blues edging out their familiar foes on the last day by a single point.

Before their weekend clash with United, the Blues will find out their opponent for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League when the draw is made Friday morning in Nyon. As winners of Group F, Chelsea will face one of six teams who finished runner-up in the Group stage, though they cannot face Marseille, who were second in their group, or fellow Premier League club Arsenal due to country protection. Of their potential opponents, the likelihood is they will face an Italian club, as half of the eligible teams in the pot will come from Serie A with each club rich in recent history with the Blues. Reigning European Champions Inter Milan could be on the cards after they came through in second place, a tie that would give Chelsea the opportunity for revenge after losing to the Nerazzurri in the last 16 of last seasons’ competition as they went on to lift the famous trophy.

Inter’s city rivals AC Milan would provide Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti with an emotional return to the club he managed for eight years before moving to West London, winning the elite European competition twice while at the San Siro in 2003 and 2007. Finally, the third possible Italian club AS Roma are currently managed by former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri, another potential home-coming in the pipeline for the popular Italian who led Chelsea between 2000 and 2004 having returned as Juventus manager in 2009. The three other possible hurdles facing the English champions come in the form of Lyon from France, Valencia of Spain and Danish Superliga champions FC Kobenhaven, who currently lead their domestic league by 19 points. In successfully topping their Champions League group, Chelsea will play the second leg at Stamford Bridge as the knockout stage of the competition begins in late February.

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