Butler: Chelsea vs. United in the $6 million match Staff
10/26/2012 12:49:50 PM
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Significant victories by Chelsea at the Emirates and White Hart Lane will count for absolutely nothing when the Barclays Premier League hands out the trinkets next spring.

Instead, history tells us that for the European Champions to reign supreme domestically this season, they must defeat Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Recording the home win against Sir Alex Ferguson has been a consistent for each of the titles the West London club has amassed during this House of Abramovich era.

A title birthright - if ever there was one that Ferguson won't need to be reminded of. Nor the fact no other club has got a better head-to-head record against Manchester United in the Premier League than Chelsea.

It's now over a decade since the last time in the league that United left the swanky Royal Borough of Kensingston and Chelsea packing the three points for the trip back up North.

One of the scorers that day back in April 2002 was Paul Scholes. Globally patented mistimed tackles aside,  Scholes will have a pivotal role as his club looks to disrupt a swashbuckling Chelsea midfield. A divide and conquer mission is required Sunday.
Mata, Hazard and - to a lesser extent - Oscar have played with the grace and purpose that runs rampant in a certain club Chelsea defeated in the semi final of last year's Champions League. Underpinning it has been Obi Mikel's coming of age - his football maturity having announced itself that Munich May evening.

With Chelsea's transformation from the more direct and physical approach to a faster passed more attractive style that came at great expense to Abramovich - and with it the opportunity cost of an almost complete overhaul to their long serving midfield - most pundits predicted pre-season that the club's new signings and system would need time to bed in.

How wrong they were.

Hazard leads the league in assists, Oscar tops the 'oh my' table and no other player this season has shown more consistency and value to his team than Juan Mata - who earlier in the season was very shrewdly only used sparingly by Di Matteo.

Tellingly, the club's only better start to a season was when they retained the title in 2005-06 - when they recorded nine straight victories to kick off the campaign.

As dominating as Chelsea has been in the league where they seemingly are scoring goals for fun, the same does not hold true in Europe.

Setting aside Tuesday's disappointment in Donetsk, Atletico Madrid schooled Chelsea in August's UEFA Super Cup and Juventus deserved more than the point at Stamford Bridge and the score line against Nordsjaelland certainly flattered to deceive.

It's safe to say a Jekyll and Hyde type Chelsea has emerged under Di Matteo. If a Euro trash Chelsea show up Sunday then the outcome will not be any different to the time the two clubs met in the first leg at the quarter-final stage of the 2010-11 Champions League. A Rooney marker was enough to secure the win for United at Stamford Bridge that particular April evening.

Although last year's runners-up go into Sunday's match on the strength of a mid-week victory in the Champions League, the story of their season is conceding early and often. Alarmingly for Ferguson, this familiar pattern has occurred in four of their last five games. Not always like Tuesday night have United  responded and gone on to collect the points.

Decimated at the back with long term injury setbacks to Smalling and Jones and combined with the loss of Vidic late last month for upwards of two months has piled way too much pressure on a very weary playing Rio Ferdinand.

Rested in the week by Ferguson is a sure sign the manager knows to get the best out of the soon to be 34-year-old he has to provide his ex-captain with a comfortable seat in the directors box when the occasion merits. Especially so, ahead of big moments like Sunday.

Although he'll never admit it publicly (neither will John Terry) but the year-long racism saga the two have been embroiled in has taken a psychological toll on them both. Now mercifully, the searing feud is at an end following the statement released by the Ferdinand brothers Wednesday night.

Allied to this, there will be no pre-match histrionics around the traditional handshake greeting. Terry's confined to the director's box as he serves out his four-match ban.

You can't get though keep the Chelsea captain out of the headlines. He is after all the only man in European football history to not play in a final but then in full kit, shin pads included, march his team up to the seats where the jewelry resides to hold aloft the European Cup.

Much pre-match conversation will centre on the reports out of a Spanish radio station Thursday that had an agent claiming to be working on Terry's behalf shopping the player around for the January window. With Valencia mentioned as a possible destination, Chelsea were very quick to deny their captain would be leaving SW6.

Although a Chelsea- Manchester encounter could not ever be mentioned in the same breath as an El Clásico, every single ticket was sold before the season started.

That includes an increasing portfolio of hospitality packages on offer these days at Stamford Bridge. For the very first time in Premier League history the most expensive tickets for Sunday were on sale at the box office for an amount north of £1,000 ($1,600)

Total match day revenues are expected to exceed $6 million (£3.75 million) - an astronomical sum by any measure.

With the undoubted attacking talent on display, coupled with the defensive woes that have plagued Manchester United all season, Petr Cech's prediction of a Stamford Bridge goal fest may not be wide of the mark.

Surely though we can't expect a repeat of last season's encounter when Chelsea raced out to the three-nil lead only for a brace of dubious Rooney second half penalties put United on their way to tying it up late on.

Even if Sunday brings together the two best teams in the league, it can't be tagged as a Barclays Premier League title decider. With Wayne Rooney and Roman Abramovich celebrating milestones 48 hours ago, a birthday decider it is.

A pulsating 90 minutes ahead with the final whistle revealing which birthday boy will go home with the cake. Humble pie not included.


Based on figures released earlier in the week by national tourism agency VisitBritain, 900,000 tourists visited England in 2011 with the sole purpose of watching a BPL match. The figure represents an astonishing 20 per cent increase on 2010. So if the recent upward trend has continued through 2012 it may well be the case the millionth football tourist in 2012 will walk through the turnstiles at Stamford Bridge Sunday. Unsurprisingly Old Trafford is the favorite destination but for anyone who has been to Stamford Bridge in recent seasons can attest to - flags and banners fly from the stadium rafters each match day from such far flung football outposts as Bermuda, Cyprus and the UAE.


Fresh off a listing on the NYSE, Manchester United now have their sights firmly set on opening an east coast office that will deal specifically with media and commercial opportunities in North America. In doing so, the most valuable sports franchise on the planet will be the very first club in world football to open an overseas commercial office. Ticker symbol MUFC successfully launched an office in one of the swankiest and sought after areas in London back in 2009. Housing a staff of 40 the London HQ has been instrumental in growing the club's commercial partner portfolio - including the whopping $75 million per year jersey deal with Chevrolet that was announced in the summer. Some analysts are predicting Manchester United's next apparel deal could top out at £1 billion ($1.6 billion). The mind boggles - the club's current deal with Nike is due to expire in 2015.


Only in England would such an ad hoc committee exist with regard to sporting endeavor. Their latest deliberations will be good news to the best player in the league to date as the body announced earlier in the week that Chelsea's second against Arsenal at the Emirates has been rightfully credited to Juan Mata. Too bad the Dubious Goals Panel doesn't have the power to rule on phantom goals. Chelsea though will be one of the clubs to play a competitive match when Goal Line Technology is implemented at this year's FIFA World Club Cup to be staged in Tokyo in early December.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler

Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on You can follow him on Twitter at and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.


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