A case of Chelsea's defence against Man United's attack
MAN UNITED v CHELSEA
(Tonight, 11.55pm, Singtel mio TV Ch 102 & Starhub TV Ch 227)
Jose Mourinho's team always have a sound back four.
True to his reputation, the Special One has forged a formidable defensive unit in his second stint at Stamford Bridge.
After letting in eight goals in eight games, they hold the joint second-best record in terms of goals conceded, three behind Southampton.
There is excellent quality across Chelsea's backline.
On the right, Branislav Ivanovic is an "untouchable". He defends solidly, and pops in with the crucial goals.
Much has been said of Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta, but Ivanovic has been a key figure in Chelsea's success in recent years.
In the centre, John Terry and Gary Cahill have developed an understanding that is unrivalled in the English top flight.
Terry's astute reading of the game and his big-game temperament makes him one of the best defenders to have graced the Premiership, and the one player England most sorely missed at the World Cup in Brazil.
Cahill is the perfect sidekick. He covers the skipper with his pace and athleticism.
He seldom attracts the plaudits because he operates beside a more illustrious name, but that doesn't diminish his contribution.
The telepathy that he has with Terry forms the basis of Chelsea's spine.
Cesar Azpilicueta is the final piece of the jigsaw.
On the left, he has been one of the most outstanding performers in the Premiership this season.
He is equally adept at the back and further upfield.
In defence, he is confident, intelligent, but once he moves into the attacking half, he enters an entirely different zone, as if those feet were made purely for destroying opponents.
Chelsea's defensive supremacy is down to a few factors. Mourinho's faith in his backline plays a huge part.
In all eight Premiership matches, not once has he tampered with his starting defensive line-up.
Seeing how others have had to chop and change due to circumstances, Chelsea can't deny they have had their fair share of luck as well.
So far, they have escaped the injury curse.
But Mourinho's hand has been forced in the clash with the Red Devils.
Azpilicueta is serving a three-match ban for his red card against Crystal Palace, which should be cause for concern.
Except that Mourinho has a ready-made back-up, which comes in the form of Brazil international Filipe Luis.
One of the best players in La Liga last term and part of Atletico Madrid's stellar defence as they clinched the title, Luis is a dream option on the bench for any manager.
With a sparkling performance under his belt, during the 6-0 trashing of Maribor in the Champions League, he has almost guaranteed himself a spot in Azpilicueta's absence.
Mourinho's backline will be put to the test by Man United's superb offensive prowess.
But don't expect this to faze him, or his charges, one bit.
If anything, this is all the motivation they need.
For now, just forget the lop-sided talent that plagues Manchester United.
Focus on the attacking brilliance, and this is almost what dreams are made of.
At the front, manager Louis van Gaal has assembled some gems to add to what was already the envy of many.
There were many destinations he could have gone to, but Radamel Falcao picked United.
The striker might have missed much of 2014 because of a serious knee problem, but in his few games in a United shirt, he has already shown flashes of brilliance that provide hints of why United were willing to take the gamble.
A deadly finisher who's mobile and crafty in and around the penalty box, he will be an unstoppable force, if he hits his stride.
In three Premiership starts and two substitute appearances, he has scored once and chipped in with two assists.
If van Gaal liked what he saw in the game against Everton, it will be Robin van Persie whom the Colombian will start with in a two-man strike force.
Van Persie may not have hit the ground running this season, after scoring twice in seven Premiership outings, but there remains an aura about him that makes him a fantastic asset.
His wonder-goal against Spain in the World Cup showed that he has lost none of the predatory instincts that single-handedly won United the Premiership crown two seasons ago.
Strike partnerships often take time to develop, and van Persie and Falcao may be in the midst of it.
Angel di Maria, though, has wasted no time in winning over the fans.
Quick, tricky and direct, the Argentinian immediately stamped his class on the left of United's attack since moving from Real Madrid in late August.
Three goals in six outings say it all. Throw in another four assists and United have their most promising signing since Cristiano Ronaldo.
Wayne Rooney usually completes the five-star cast in the attacking half. But the skipper will be missing against Chelsea, serving the last game of a three-match suspension after his dismissal against West Ham last month.
His absence may shave a little potency off the United attack, but with Juan Mata ready to step in, van Gaal won't be too concerned.
From a central position, the Spaniard distributes the ball and dictates the tempo of play.
His former boss Mourinho has upped the stakes by claiming that Mata is not "a special player". The attacking midfielder is obliged to prove him wrong, and he has the capability to make Mourinho eat his words.
It's in defence where van Gaal will be looking for solutions that have so far eluded him.
United themselves are under no illusions.
In attack, they have a Porsche 918 Spyder but in their own penalty box, they are served by a Tata Nano. For now, van Gaal must hope that his side do it the primitive way against the Blues: Outscore them.
With a star-studded cast at the tip, they certainly can do it.