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Premier League Preview: Manchester United - Chelsea

Kickoff: Saturday, 3 April, 12:45pm BST
Old Trafford, Manchester, Lancashire


In the Premier League, it simply doesn't get much bigger than this. Manchester United host Chelsea as first and second place do battle, with the winner taking a step closer to realising the dream of once again claiming English football's top honours.

It hasn't been a dream week so far for Sir Alex Ferguson, though. After Wayne Rooney gave United an early lead against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday, they went on to lose the game courtesy of a late strike from Ivica Olic.

To make matters a lot worse, Rooney limped off with an ankle ligament injury, just days before the crucial meeting with the Blues on Saturday. The England striker now faces three weeks out and will miss the return leg with Bayern, as well as a handful of key fixtures in the title run-in, possibly including the Manchester derby.

It's not all doom and gloom for Ferguson: the Red Devils will still fancy their chances of progressing in Europe, are top of the league after a five-game unbeaten run and, as usual, are proving to be a formidable prospect at Old Trafford. If the reigning champions can get the better of Chelsea on Saturday, the title is theirs to lose.

How Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti must be wishing he faced the task of negotiating a quarter-final second leg in the Champions League. The Italian failed to realise club owner Roman Abramovich's European dream as his side were beaten by Inter in the round of 16, leaving Ancelotti under pressure to deliver the Premier League title - or at the very least the FA Cup - this season.

A groggy 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers followed the defeat at the hands of Jose Mourinho's men, but the Blues have been rampant since. Their last two games - away at Portsmouth and at home to Aston Villa - have resulted in 5-0 and 7-1 victories, respectively, with Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda firing on all cylinders.

Such results have given Chelsea the edge over United on goal difference, which could still prove vital come May, but a win at Old Trafford on Saturday is vital if Ancelotti's charges want their title fate to be in their own hands.

FORM GUIDE

Man Utd

Bayern Munich 2-1 Man Utd (Champions League)
Bolton 0-4 Man Utd (Premier League)
Man Utd 2-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Man Utd 3-0 Fulham (Premier League)
Man Utd 4-0 AC Milan (Champions League)

Chelsea

Chelsea 7-1 Aston Villa (Premier League)
Portsmouth 0-5 Chelsea (Premier League)
Blackburn 1-1 Chelsea (Premier League)
Chelsea 0-1 Inter (Champions League)
Chelsea 4-1 West Ham (Premier League)

TEAM NEWS

Man Utd

Wayne Rooney will not get the chance to fire his side into a lead at the top of the table after suffering minor ankle ligament damage against Bayern Munich on Tuesday; the striker faces around two to three weeks out.

Rooney is United’s only new injury concern, though Michael Owen, Wes Brown, Anderson and John O’Shea remain unavailable, with O'Shea set to return to full fitness imminently after recovering from a long-term thigh problem.

Another long-term absentee, midfielder Owen Hargreaves, is also set to return soon; indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson has even suggested that either Hargreaves or O'Shea could make the bench for the Chelsea clash.

Chelsea

There is better news on the striker front for Chelsea, as Didier Drogba has recovered from the knock that saw him miss the 7-1 thrashing of Aston Villa and is almost certain to start at Old Trafford after sitting out two training sessions.

Ancelotti has his regular list of long-term absentees hampering his team selection; Michael Essien, Ashley Cole, Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa are all still unavailable, while Branislav Ivanovic is sidelined with a knee problem.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Man Utd

It has been well documented that, in the absence of Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov may find himself leading the line alone on Saturday and must take centre stage. The Bulgarian, whose languid style is in contrast to the England international's more energetic approach, is yet to capture the imaginations of the United faithful in the same way he did at previous club Tottenham Hotspur, but a match-winning performance against Chelsea would certainly go some way to launching the striker into iconic status.

Chelsea

The availability of Didier Drogba is obviously a massive plus for Chelsea and he will surely play a significant part in Saturday's early kick-off, but the continued exceptional form of Florent Malouda makes the midfielder a potent threat to United's back four. The Frenchman has scored 13 goals in all competitions this season - 11 of them in the Premier League - and, whether battling Rafael or Gary Neville, Malouda will be confident of making an impact on proceedings.

PREDICTION

Chelsea are riding high after scoring 12 goals in their last two games, but will know they face a much more difficult task in overturning Manchester United at Old Trafford, having only beaten their hosts twice in the last ten league meetings between the two at the Theatre of Dreams.

United relinquished a lead against Bayern in midweek, but Sir Alex Ferguson's charges reversed the same deficit against Liverpool just two weeks ago and could open up a four-point gap at the top of the league.

Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea