Ex-stars: United won't fall at the Bridge
Former stars Scholes, May and Sharpe talk up United's chances against Chelsea
REPORTING FROM HAINAN, CHINA
CHELSEA v MAN UNITED
(Tonight, 10.55pm, Singtel TV Ch 103 & StarHub TV Ch 228 - Eleven Plus HD)
Two key statistics bode ill for Manchester United.
Chelsea are unbeaten in their last six Premier League matches (won three, drew three).
Manchester United lost more often to Chelsea than any other team in the Premier League era (16).
But, for former United stars Paul Scholes, David May and Lee Sharpe, those statistics mean nothing.
For against that backdrop, Scholes predicts a boring 0-0 stalemate, May expects an exciting draw and Sharpe believes United will nick it in tonight's big showdown at the Bridge.
As excitement gathers momentum for United manager Jose Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge, the three ex-Red Devils are confident that their former club will bag at least a point.
Scholes, a one-club footballer in the English Premier League with 718 loyal appearances for United, has recently been critical of Mourinho's transfer buys.
Here at Mission Hills Haiku, on the beautiful Chinese island of Hainan, for a celebrity pro-am golf event along with May and Sharpe, Scholes told The New Paper: "I don't see United losing."
Now a columnist with a British newspaper, Scholes, 41, has been concerned about Mourinho's tactics.
"Too defensive," fumed the former midfielder who was the most decorated English footballer with 25 trophies (including 11 Premier League and two Champions League titles) in his 20-year illustrious club career.
May, 46, who played for United from 1994 to 2003, said: "Chelsea are not what they used to be, so an away draw is likely, and good for United."
HOSTILE GROUND: Manchester United’s only league win at Stamford Bridge (above) since 2002 came in October 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS
But Sharpe, 45, who donned United colours from 1988 to 1996, said: "I pick United to win because Chelsea are weak defensively.
"I think David Luiz is a strange buy-back, and this is where the chink is.
"Although United have not been a settled side, they have played well in stages, and it is during these periods that they could score."
When asked how he would compare the Mourinho of Chelsea with the Mourinho of United, wing wonder Sharpe replied: "He's been the same, although he seems to adopt a more defensive strategy now."
On this, Scholes said recently that at Chelsea, Mourinho found the right players at right positions but, at United, the self-proclaimed Special One has yet to settle a side.
The trio agreed that United are going through a testing 10-day period with a League Cup clash against Manchester City next Wednesday.
But they oozed optimism because United have remained unbeaten in their last two matches - a goalless away draw at in-form Liverpool in the league on Monday and a 4-1 thumping of Turkish side Fenerbahce in the Europa League on Thursday.
It was also encouraging that United's record buy Paul Pogba poached two goals against Fenerbahce and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, who bought the creative playmaker for Juventus from United in 2012, is aware of his inherent ability.
With tough defender Branislav Ivanovic (muscle) and midfielder Cesc Fabregas (thigh) out with injuries, Chelsea have taken a knock in their preparations for the big clash.
But the Blues see some light in the return of skipper and defender John Terry and possibly Kurt Zouma in their 3-4-3 formation which has been encouraging recently.
With striker Diego Costa in strong predatory form, the Spaniard seems good for a goal or two.
That alone has been encouraging for a fanatical Chinese fan, Wang Zhoujuan, who wore a Chelsea cap as he walked the course during the celebrity game on Friday.
He said in a smattering of English: "Chelsea at home, very good. The fans will back them to win."
FORMER REDS HAVE THEIR SAY
"I think defence will determine the result. Both teams have enough firepower to grab a goal. So it will be 1-1."
- Former Liverpool and England striker Robbie Fowler, 41, nicknamed “God” by Liverpool fans
"It will be 1-0 to Chelsea. I know Jose Mourinho will park the bus, but I believe Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is shrewd enough to get his team to find a way through. Having said that, the Chelsea defence must stand up to the test."
- Former Scotland international Gary McAllister, 51, who played for Leeds, Leicester and Liverpool
BY THE NUMBERS
2 Last season’s Premier League matches between the sides were both draws, with only two goals scored after Diego Costa netted a stoppage-time equaliser to deny United victory at Stamford Bridge in February.
Jose: Roman's never my friend
Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said that he has "never" been friends with club owner Roman Abramovich, but will not over-celebrate if Manchester United score against his old side tonight.
Abramovich twice hired Mourinho, in 2004 and 2013, and watched him become the club's greatest manager over his two spells at the helm, notably winning three Premier League titles.
But the Russian billionaire has also sacked him twice, most recently last December and, ahead of the Portuguese's return to Stamford Bridge with United, Mourinho revealed his relationship with his former boss was only ever professional.
"He was never my friend. We had always the relation of owner-manager, a very respectful relation," Mourinho said.
"We were never friends, we were never close to each other. So no, he's just a person that I respected."
The 53-year-old returns to Stamford Bridge for the first time as manager of another Premier League club, but he does not care what kind of reception he receives from Chelsea fans.
Mourinho had faced Chelsea while he was in charge of Inter Milan in the Champions League in 2010.
He said: "To say I care is not true. I am more focused on the game.
"I try to prepare myself for the match, so I cannot say that I care.
"What can I expect? I don't know.
"They can think about me and remember our great relation and have a good reaction.
"They can look at me and say for 90 minutes he is Man United manager and he is playing against us, so he is not someone we like at this moment.
"I did my job (at Chelsea). They gave me their love and they gave me their support.
"That is the most important thing.
"If now I go there as Man United manager and they decide to have a different approach, I will always respect them.
"I played there with Inter. I tried to do my job.
"If you ask me, if my team score a goal, am I going to celebrate like a crazy kid? No. I think I can control the emotion of that situation.
"Am I going to have a negative reaction if the crowd has something negative with me?
"No. I have the maturity enough to control the emotion.
"I have lots of respect. What Man United fans can expect from me is more important.
"What Man United fans can expect from me is to play against Chelsea the same way I play against Fenerbahce, Liverpool, anyone, because that is my job."
Man United forward Marcus Rashford feels a win for the team tonight "could set us up for the rest of the season".
"If we can go there, produce a good team performance and hopefully get the three points, that will give us a good boost and could set us up for the rest of the season," Rashford told MUTV. - Wire Services.
"I played there (Stamford Bridge) with Inter (Milan). I tried to do my job. If you ask me, if my team score a goal, am I going to celebrate like a crazy kid? No. I think I can control the emotion of that situation. Am I going to have a negative reaction if the crowd has something negative with me? No. I have the maturity enough to control the emotion."
- Jose Mourinho (picture)