Manchester United travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea on Sunday and bring some familiar faces with them.
Jose Mourinho, the club’s most successful ever manager, will be facing his former team for a fourth occasion, having won one and lost two of the games he’s played against them as United boss.
Juan Mata was voted player of the season by the fans twice at Chelsea, as well as winning the Champions League, while Nemanja Matic won the Premier League twice at Stamford Bridge.
It is the Serbian who is the most recent to depart, though and this will be his first time returning to his former club wearing the red of United.
When he left the club, the general reaction from the fans there was one of apathy. They had slated him the season before and seemingly weren’t bothered that he was leaving for a rival team.
'Whoever decided to sell Nemanja Matic deserves sacking…'
Strong words from Phil Neville.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) November 1, 2017
When you consider that Matic had played in every game before the final week of the season, other than when he was injured for the match against Manchester City, it seemed odd that the fans derided him. Antonio Conte clearly rated him; playing him every week in a season that Chelsea won the title.
The Italian was less than impressed with Roman Abramovich’s decision to sanction the move but Matic had his heart on being reunited with Mourinho at United. The Chelsea owner did the decent thing but it certainly wasn’t in the best interests of his club.
In the summer, Conte voiced his frustration at the club’s decision to sell “a really good player, a top player” who was “very important” to the team and whose absence was a “great loss”.
The manager’s words have been proven correct, with Tiemoue Bakayoko struggling to match what Matic gave to the team. His performances certainly haven’t been anywhere near the level of Matic’s for United this season, who plays brilliantly every week. Phil Neville claimed this week that the person who sanctioned the transfer deserves sacking.
It’s a struggle to think of a below par performance from the Serbian so far, with many United supporters genuinely surprised by how good he is.
— Full Time DEVILS (@FullTimeDEVILS) November 2, 2017
Matic isn’t the typical holding midfielder, although he boasts a decent rate of interceptions, blocks and balls won in the air, as he is able to take a player on and deliver brilliant passes forward. His long-range efforts on goal are good too, although he hasn’t seen as much success with these yet.
It was his effort against Real Madrid in the Super Cup final that lead to United’s only goal, as well as his attempt going in off the post and goalkeeper against Benfica earlier this week.
There can’t be many Chelsea fans watching Matic playing so well every game who still hold the low opinions they had of him when he left for Old Trafford.
And now they meet again.
When Mourinho last returned to Stamford Bridge, the fans booed their legendary manager and called him Judas. Mourinho responded by holding up three fingers to the crowd, representing the number of times he’d won the league with them. When you consider the club has only won six titles in their entire history, it’s sad they think so little of Mourinho now.
“They can call me what they want,” he said.
“Until the moment they have a manager that wins four Premier Leagues for them, I’m the number one. Judas is number one.”
When you also consider that Mourinho was only in a position to take the United job because Chelsea had sacked him, for a second time, it makes the cries of him being a traitor all the more strange. Do they believe he was supposed to remain loyal to a club that had repeatedly given him the boot and not take up the position at a club he always wanted to manage?
In contrast, Matic chose to swap Chelsea for United and claimed he didn’t need to think twice about doing it.
“Manchester is one of the biggest clubs in the world,” he said, when explaining his decision to sign for United.
“Also, my wish was to train with Jose [Mourinho] and, of course, when you have a coach like him and a club like Manchester is, you don’t need to think a lot so my decision was very easy.”
If Mourinho is booed, you have to wonder what sort of reaction Matic will get. Yet the Serbian isn’t too bothered about the reception.
“We won the title twice and also two cups, so I don’t have to prove to them anything. I just have to prove something to my new club,” he said.
“When I played there I always gave 100 per cent. I’m sure they respect that but if not, I don’t really care.”
Chances are that Chelsea supporters will be afforded the opportunity to be magnanimous though, if United’s record at Stamford Bridge is anything to go by.
Since 2002, United have played there 15 times in the league and have lost nine times. While Chelsea should be grateful to the performances that referee Martin Atkinson has put in during this fixture over the years, it’s hard to get away from the fact this ground is an unhappy one for United.
They have been on the winning side once in those 15 years and everything went United’s way that evening. Firstly, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez were both playing and both strikers historically enjoyed a great goal scoring record against the west London club.
After coming back from two goals down to make it 2-2, United only scored the winner after Chelsea had two players sent off.
That said, the last time these clubs met, Mourinho did a number on Conte’s men. United beat them 2-0 at Old Trafford earlier this year and denied Chelsea from having a single shot on target for the first time in a decade.
After an embarrassing 4-0 loss in the league, and a 1-0 narrow defeat in the FA Cup months later when United played with 10 men for an hour, Mourinho worked out how to get the better of Conte in April.
Can Mourinho, Matic and Mata return to their former stomping ground and get a win?
The odds are against them, but whatever happens, United will still be above Chelsea in the league come Monday morning…But both sides are desperate for bragging rights.