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Manchester United out to stop in-form Chelsea

Frank Lampard

London: Riding the wave of a five-match winning streak, Chelsea face Manchester United on Sunday with a chance to reinforce their own Premier League credentials and read the last rites to their opponents’ title defence.

Jose Mourinho’s battles with Manchester United in his first stint as manager were frequently billed as decisive skirmishes in the title race, but this encounter will lack that extra edge.

Chelsea are in the slipstream of Arsenal and Manchester City, but United are way off the pace.

United will not be helped by the absence of injured strikers Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. Rooney (groin) has at least started running again, whilst Van Persie (thigh) should return to training on Monday after nearly six weeks on the sidelines. The Red Devils trail Chelsea by nine points and battled out a tense goalless draw at Old Trafford earlier in the season. With both their key players missing, United’s approach is likely to be focused on containment.

And despite United’s precarious stage and position of seventh in the table, Mourinho warned against underestimating them. “Even when giants are sleeping, you cannot take them lightly,” he said.

Chelsea will welcome back midfielder Frank Lampard, who have recovered from a calf injury. New signing Nemanja Matic has been added to the squad but boss Jose Mourinho has said he will not start.

However, right-back Branislav Ivanovic only returned to training on Friday following a knee problem and is unlikely to start.

Mourinho, meanwhile, says he has called a halt to Chelsea’s pursuit of Rooney, claiming that United were adamant the England striker would not be sold to a domestic rival.

Chelsea tried to prise Rooney away from Old Trafford last summer, during his rift with United. United made it clear both publicly and privately that Rooney would not be sold, Chelsea’s interest remained undimmed. Now, with Fernando Torres approaching some sort of form, Mourinho appears to have admitted defeat.

“I’m happy with the squad we have,” Mourinho said. “United made it clear in the summer that they don’t swap or sell players to their direct rivals. They were clear in the way they approached the Rooney situation. For them, it’s pretty clear.” (Reuters)