Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United begin a potentially season defining spell when they face Chelsea at Old Trafford tomorrow.
After Jose Mourinho’s side, United play champions Manchester City at the Etihad before travelling to the Emirates on November 22.
And the Dutchman labelling last week’s 2-2 draw at the Hawthorns United’s best performance of the season will not have inspired confidence ahead of a tough month.
Following an indifferent start to the season for United, Chelsea present the first real challenge of the Van Gaal revolution and recent results do not bode well for fans.
Last season United took just five of a possible 24 points from the top four teams in the Premier League.
United’s top four woe 2013/14:
Home (United’s score first) Away (United’s score first)
Chelsea 0-0 1-3
Manchester City 0-3 1-4
Liverpool 0-3 0-1
Arsenal 1-0 0-0
Van Gaal’s side have struggled this year even though seven of their eight games so far this season have been against teams that finished outside the top 12 last year.
United currently sit sixth but will be well aware that 12 points from their first eight games is below par given the standard of opposition they have faced.
In contrast Sunday’s opponents Chelsea have been ruthless on their way to building a commanding five point lead at the top of the Premier League.
The additions of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have transformed Mourinho’s men into a fearsome side who are the only unbeaten side in the division.
Even so, United must start taking points from games against teams in the upper echelons of the Premier League if they are to reach their target of a top four finish.
However Mourinho has lost only once in eight league games against Manchester United: Darren Fletcher’s header ended Chelsea’s 40-match unbeaten run in December 2005.
Mourinho’s got the edge over United:
Mourinho reign at Chelsea Home (Chelsea score first) Away (Chelsea score first)
2004/05 1-0 3-1
2005/06 3-0 0-1
2006/07 0-0 1-1
2013/14 3-1 0-0
Current form suggests this is a record that is unlikely to change on Sunday.
Chelsea are the league’s top scorers with 23 goals from eight games and also boast the second best defence: only Southampton have conceded fewer goals than Chelsea’s eight.
And Mourinho’s men are already 10 points clear of United ahead of the second managerial meeting of the Special One and his mentor Van Gaal.
During the 90s Chelsea’s Portuguese boss spent three years as assistant coach under Van Gaal at Barcelona, winning two La Liga titles, one Spanish Cup and the 1997-98 UEFA Super Cup.
Unfortunately for United fans, Mourinho was on the winning side of the pair’s first meeting when his treble winning Inter side beat Van Gaal’s Bayern Munich 2-0 in the 2010 Champions League final at the Bernabeu.
Now in his second season back at Chelsea, Mourinho has built a team that boast pace, guile and power in equal measures and it is already difficult to look past the Londoners as this year’s champions.
Notably the London side have used just 14 players as they have swept aside all before them in the league this season.
In contrast Van Gaal has already used 30 players as United as he continues to search for a balance and consistency that has so far been absent.
However the Dutchman’s side can take heart from the fact that Chelsea are likely to be without their lethal new signing Diego Costa, and his deputy Loic Remy.
The Spaniard has scored nine goals in seven league appearances since his big money move from Atletico Madrid but is struggling for full fitness as he continues to recover from a mystery illness.
In their absence club legend Didier Drogba is likely to spearhead the Chelsea attack.
The thought of a man with 100 Premier League goals at almost a goal every two games may be daunting but United should be cautiously optimistic.
At 36 the Ivorian is a shade of the player that scored 29 goals in 32 games as Chelsea pipped United to the league title in 2009/10.
And although Drogba scored the winner at Old Trafford in a 2-1 victory in 2010 that remains his only league goal against United.
This may be the best time to play a Chelsea team who are being tipped to emulate the Arsenal side of 2003/04 and go the entire season unbeaten.
However if United do slip to their third defeat of the campaign tomorrow they risk falling off the pace at the top of the league.
Chelsea would be a massive 13 points clear of Van Gaal’s men after just nine games.
Recent history suggests United are unlikely to fair well away to rivals Man City and Arsenal but if they do not buck the trend in the coming weeks fourth place may also seem a long way off.
Ahead of a mammoth month for Van Gaal one thing is certain, his side need to improve on their best performance of the season so far.
Main image courtesy of Chelsea TV via YouTube, with thanks.