Chelsea visit looks a Bridge too far for Man United once again


Sunday 4.00pm

ENGLAND’S representatives had their limitations exposed in the Champions League this week.

Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal all suffered deserved defeats while Manchester United were forced to come from behind after going two goals down to Braga after 20 minutes.

Of the losing trio Chelsea have the least to worry about. I’m not reading too much into the Blues’ defeat against Shakhtar Donetsk – it was their first Champions League loss under Roberto Di Matteo and, in any case, no English side has won in Donetsk.

Arguably, despite picking up three points, United’s performance leaves them with more to ponder. There was certainly much head scratching after conceding a pair of early goals to Braga, both of which were scored by the Portuguese side’s striker Alan.

In all competitions, that was the eighth time in 12 games this term that the Red Devils have conceded the first goal. It is a trend that will worry Sir Alex Ferguson when United visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday in the biggest game of the season so far.

United’s defensive frailties certainly give plenty of encouragement for anticipating Chelsea to score first, and they can be backed to do just that, at 10/11 with Coral.

It is also worth betting on Di Matteo’s men as favourites to snare the three points. They are 6/4 with Betfred and that looks good to me considering it has been a decade since United last won at the Bridge in the Premier League.

Chelsea have cruised to the top of the table after winning seven and drawing the other of their eight fixtures. And no matter the result on Sunday, they are guaranteed to remain at the summit, with the safety net of a four-point gap over the Manchester clubs already opened up.

One concern for Di Matteo will be John Terry’s absence. Although, in the middle of his domestic suspension for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, Terry is at least spared a public reunion with the QPR centre back’s brother, and his ex-England team-mate, Rio Ferdinand.

David Luiz and Gary Cahill coped without Terry at White Hart Lane last weekend and will have to be on top form to repel United’s attacking riches.

Robin van Persie netted a hat-trick on this ground last season in a 5-3 Arsenal victory, while Wayne Rooney scored a brace and Javier Hernandez grabbed a late equaliser as United came from three goals down to earn a point in SW6 in February.

Hernandez’s two goals against Braga may force his name into what could be a very attacking starting XI.

But let’s not forget, Chelsea have the best goal difference in the division, on plus 13. They also share the responsibility of putting the ball in the net, with Juan Mata and Fernando Torres top scorers on half a dozen goals each. The Spaniards are among six different players having struck at least three times in all competitions. United have only two players to have scored that many, Hernandez (3) and Van Persie (8), on whom they are particularly reliant.

Considering the last 11 contests between these teams have seen a haul of 35 goals – 10 of which came in the last campaign – you might expect me to tip up a buy of goals. However, Sporting Index’s spread is 3.1-3.3 and at that price I just have to sell in what could be a tight game.

■ Pointers…

Chelsea at 6/4 with Betfred
Chelsea to score first at 10/11 with Coral
Sell total goals at 3.1 with Sporting Index