After the horrifically dull disaster that was “Red Monday”, some marketing executives at Sky Sports might be shifting uneasily in their executive chairs at thought of marketing this Sunday’s clash between Chelsea and Manchester United as “Super”.
Luckily for them, however, whatever happens on the pitch the narrative of a certain Jose Mourinho returning to the stadium where he made his name will be more than enough to push this fixture over the line as the standout game of the weekend.
Given the bore-draw at Anfield on Monday evening, a Europa League fixture at home against Fenerbahçe, the return to Stamford Bridge and the forthcoming League Cup tie against their city rivals all within the space of ten days, Manchester United fans might be overly optimistic in their expectations of free-flowing, attacking football they crave so much.
For all the talk of box office, Jose Mourinho has proved himself time and time again that on the pitch he is an ultra-pragmatist, who would often rather stop the opposition achieving their aims, rather than pursue the win for his own players.
Chelsea, similarly, have their own box office draw in the dugout in the shape of Antonio Conte, and the latest betting odds have his side favourites for Sunday’s clash.
The Italian’s theatrics – constantly pacing the technical area like a Tiger that has been doused in itching powder – will do a power of good to ingratiate himself with Chelsea fans.
But, and perhaps this is one of the last Mourinho legacies apparent in West London despite Roman Abramovich’s purges, Chelsea fans are pragmatists and they want to win.
And so far, so half decent for Antonio Conte thus far. Five wins out of eight Premier League fixtures has allowed ‘The Blues’ to keep in contact with the leading pack, but early slip ups to League rivals Liverpool and Arsenal were more reminiscent of last season’s capitulation rather than a new start.
However, last weekend’s 3-0 win over reigning champions Leicester City could signal the start of a process that the Chelsea ownership will hope lead the club back into title contention.
One tactical change may have a lot to do with Chelsea’s improved performances. Much was made of Conte’s preference to play three at the back at Juventus and with the Italian national team, but at Chelsea, having inherited a very Mourinho team, Conte deployed a four-defence.
With the shaky performances came a change to the familiarity of a back three. This change has led to the deployment of attacking wing-backs Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses to add width and allow Chelsea’s forwards to play more centrally.
Given the peripheral position the 25-year-old has found himself at since signing for Chelsea in 2012, it’s an interesting development to see Victor Moses revel in a new position for a club he seemed for so long not wanted or needed. If he keeps playing the way he is playing he may well be one of Chelsea’s key players this season.
One player that will undoubtedly be key to Chelsea’s fortunes is new signing N’Golo Kanté.
Watching the Frenchman in the game against his former employer it was evident at how cruel football can be for some, as Leicester struggled to contend with his control of midfield that they benefitted from so lucratively last season.
There is a sense that by signing Kanté Chelsea have found their ‘Claude Makélélé mk. 2’ – an imperious, clam defensive midfielder that can break-up play and control the ball in equal measure.
Given the riches that came with winning the title, it surprised many that Leicester City sold the 25 year-old, his new manager being amongst those perplexed, but understandably delighted at the deal:
I repeat: we did a great business to take him. I don’t know [why he chose to move to the club]. You must ask him. But I hope it was after my conversation, yes.
He looked at both situations and took the best choice for him and his family. I’m pleased N’Golo took the decision to come with us.
A battle between international teammates Kanté and Paul Pogba will be one of the battles to look out for at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
And for Antonio Conte the visit of Manchester United provide the first real challenge for a his team that is finally looking more like ‘his team’.