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11 December 2023

Avoiding the Blues

The champions have failed to beat Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal so far this season. (GETTY IMAGES)

By John McAuley

Liverpool may be leading the race for the Premier League title, but the two sides do battle at Old Trafford tomorrow night in a match that could determine who holds the trophy aloft come May.

Manchester United, the reigning champions, entertain Chelsea at Old Trafford having suffered more defeats this season to their three closest rivals than they have in any of the past four.

In fact, a win from the opening round of fixtures against Luiz Felipe Scolari's side, Liverpool or Arsenal has thus far eluded the Red Devils. And, usually, United are a team for the grandest of occasions.

Last season, when they secured their second successive league title and their 18th overall, Sir Alex Ferguson's men suffered only one defeat to the remainder of England's 'Big Four'. It was the same in the three seasons previous too.

Yet this year United have conspired to lose at both Liverpool and Arsenal – 2-1 separated the sides on each occasion – and could only muster a rather fortunate 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Despite taking the lead in London last September, the champions were outplayed for long spells and deserved to have victory snatched from them in the closing stages by Salomon Kalou.

The draw at the Bridge followed a rare defeat to rivals Liverpool, as Rafael Benitez, the Anfield coach, celebrated his first league win against Fergie thanks to Ryan Babel's 77th minute strike.

The loss to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in November completed an unwanted hat-trick for United, as they failed to glean three points from any of their arch rivals.

It seems a long way back to 2004/2005, when they took maximum points from five of the six games, only to lose out in the title race to the Blues, who won their first top-flight title in 50 years.

The two clubs lock swords again tomorrow night. Chelsea must still be hurting from being pipped to both the Premier League and Champions League crowns last season and revenge will be very much on the agenda.

The Londoners have one of the best records in Old Trafford league encounters, having won 17 of the 43 matches that haven't ended a draw there. Scolari, on his first visit to the Theatre of Dreams, will want to make this one an enjoyable experience.

His side could be six points behind Liverpool by the time they face United (if Benitez's team dispatch Stoke today), with the current holders a further four points back, albeit with two games in hand.

The Top Three tussle

Position      Played      Won     Drawn     Lost      Pts

1. Liverpool    20            13      6          1             45

2. Chelsea     20             12     6           2            42

3. Man Utd    18             11     5           2            38