Beat United in style and earn the title, Chelsea
Boring Chelsea must prove title credentials against Man United
CHELSEA v MAN UNITED
(Tomorrow, 12.30am, Singtel TV Ch 102 and StarHub TV Ch 227)
Jose Mourinho is a handsome man, but comparing him to Matt Damon might be a bit of a stretch.
Still, there is an overwhelming desire to grab the Chelsea manager by the lapels of his designer suit and utter that immortal line from a dying Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan.
The Blues are winning the minds of mathematicians, but not the hearts of the masses. They are methodical, rather than mesmerising. They get points on the board, but not bums off seats.
With Chelsea hosting Manchester United tomorrow morning (Singapore time), the fixture feels like a confrontation between renaissance artists painting the town red and reliable automatons made from cold, blue steel.
For some, the description is unfair. Before Christmas, the Blues fired the imagination as Cesc Fabregas provided the finesse, Diego Costa brought the force and Nemanja Matic effortlessly combined the two.
But Chelsea are trudging towards the finish line.
They're closing in on the graduation ceremony, but the final weeks of the season are turning into final exams; long, repetitive and tedious, with a Portuguese headmaster insisting on rote learning to get the job done.
In comparison, the recent shenanigans at United look like a spring break, with the rampant Red Devils dancing past Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City.
They are partying like it's 1999. There's no treble this time around, but the infectious, confident swagger is slowly returning, thanks to a manager who has taken off the handbrake.
But Chelsea, the champions in waiting, played it safe against QPR.
Almost every preview associated with United's trip to Stamford Bridge tomorrow morning predicts Chelsea caution. Mourinho's contain and counter-attacking strategy will prevail. He advocates routine, not risk.
The only course of action for the table-toppers is conservative.
Chelsea are seven points clear at the top, playing at home and facing opponents handicapped by the loss of Michael Carrick.
But it's safety first at the Bridge. Foolhardy notions of romance belong in Fifty Shades of Grey. The business of winning is a black and white issue for Mourinho.
His devotion to victory makes him the most successful manager in the game, the only downside is many of Chelsea's games in 2015 have fallen somewhere between watching paint dry and enduring a dentist drilling through a filling.
Much of the Premier League's flair of late has come from the visitors. And much of United's exuberance has come from a Chelsea reject.
When he was at the London club, Juan Mata was very much perceived as the class clown, a gifted student who insisted on improvising silly stuff and entertaining his peers while they sat at their desks writing 100 times: "I must track back more for Mr Mourinho."
In this fixture 14 months ago, Mata was an unused sub, sent to the bench like an errant child.
A week later, he was effectively expelled, packed off to United and punished for not fitting into the template.
But Louis van Gaal played the cool teacher who reached out to the troubled artistic soul.
He sent in Antonio Valencia to double up on the right flank and granted Mata the freedom to cut inside and link with Ander Herrera, pinging balls off one another like pinball bumpers.
When Mourinho couldn't force Mata's round peg into a restrictive square hole, he sold him. When van Gaal encountered the same problem, he recut the hole.
Mata reasserted himself and United benefited. Mourinho opted for a less mercurial alternative and Chelsea foundered.
Willian, Mata's replacement in the Blues' starting 11, was considered a reliable successor. This season, the Spaniard has pulled off more interceptions (18) than both Willian (9) and Oscar (14).
And from open play, Mata has scored eight times, more than the two Brazilians combined.
Mata's departure defines Mourinho's Chelsea.
The Spaniard is a maverick, not a machine part. He slips beneath games, but he also towers above them. He rarely resides in the middle ground where Mourinho's men prefer to hang out.
And that's where the Blues are now, stuck in a middle ground of mediocrity, churning out wins with little panache and even less excitement.
Mourinho will say he doesn't need Mata, but Chelsea need a creative spark to rekindle their title charge.
For the Blues to fire, their coach must remove the safety catch. Down in the dugout, the courage shouldn't be all Dutch.
The battle at the Bridge offers more than three points. A decisive, attacking victory promises prestige.
Chelsea will win the title. Now they must earn the respect that comes with it.
BY THE NUMBERS
Chelsea's last home loss in the EPL came nearly a year ago, against Sunderland on April 19, 2014.
Chelsea have failed to score only in one league match this season, away at Sunderland last November.
Chelsea are unbeaten in their last four league matches against Man United, conceding just two goals.
Man United have conceded more than one goal in an EPL match five times this season.
Four fans have their say
- PHOTO: JON WAN
JON WAN, 33, UNDERWRITER
President of the Official Chelsea Supporters' Club Singapore
Prediction: Chelsea 3 Man United 1
Chelsea have not performed as well as they should have against some of the smaller clubs recently.
But I think they will win this because they are the hungrier side.
They will want to prove they are worthy EPL champions and also send a signal that the power has shifted from Manchester to London.
The Blues lack firepower up front with injuries to Diego Costa and Loic Remy, so it is the midfield that will be key.
If Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Willian perform, Chelsea will win.
- PHOTO: CARTER EE
CARTER EE, 31, SYSTEMS ENGINEER
Prediction: Chelsea 3 Man United 2
I think Manchester United will be very dangerous opponents, manager Louis van Gaal seems to have sorted out their kinks and they are on an upswing.
But I think our home form, we haven't lost at Stamford Bridge in the league all season, will prove the difference.
If anyone is going to haunt us, it will be former Blue Juan Mata. He and Ander Herrera will be the main threats.
Thankfully, we have Nemanja Matic and Eden Hazard, so we'll win the midfield battle and the three points.
- PHOTO: GARY GOH
KEN LAI, 40, SELF-EMPLOYED
Chairman of the Manchester United Supporters Club Singapore
Prediction: Chelsea 1 Man United 2
We will be the first team to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the league this season.
I know how good their home record is but this match will come down to who wants and needs it more.
Chelsea know that this is a match they can afford to lose. Arsenal are running out of games to catch them and the Blues have a game in hand against Leicester, who are bottom of the table for a reason.
I think the United goals will come from Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata. I don't know if the former Chelsea man will celebrate when he scores the winner, but I definitely will.
- PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO
ROBSON WONG, 43, SALES MANAGER
Man United fan
Prediction: Chelsea 1 Man United 1
Chelsea's form at home is exceptional and I think a draw will be a good result for the Red Devils.
We'll still overhaul Manchester City, it's only a matter of whether we can pip Arsenal to second place.
Manchester United's form this year has been good but we must still remember that they are still a work in progress.
Don't expect an exciting game, it'll probably be a dogged draw.
Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata will be key for United, while Oscar and Eden Hazard will be the main men for the Blues.
I expect them to cancel each other out