Guus Hiddink has played down the significance of once again pitting his wits against Dutch compatriot Louis van Gaal when Chelsea host Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday.
The experienced coaches have each enjoyed two spells in charge of the Netherlands national team, while their careers have crossed paths in three different countries over the past 18 years.
Van Gaal’s last victory over Hiddink came when he led Barcelona to a 3-0 success against bitter rivals Real Madrid in 1999.
But Hiddink guided the comparatively unheralded Real Betis to a 2-1 win over Van Gaal’s Barca the following year and reeled off three straight victories for AZ against PSV in the space of five months between October 2005 and March 2006.
The pair renewed their rivalry with a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in Hiddink’s second match back at the Chelsea helm and he was quick to play down the significance of their previous tussles.
“We must not overvalue the role of the managers and the coaches – they prepare the games and the opponent and the way we like to play. That’s it,” he said.
“At the end the players have to execute what you are doing in training and in team meetings. We must not overvalue the battle between managers; it’s a battle between the players.
“This is a big match. Big clubs through the years, both Manchester United and us like to compete for the title. They have under-performed and we are getting back on track a little bit.”
Chelsea have won two and drawn five of seven Premier League matches under Hiddink and he is keen to add more triumphs to that unbeaten run.
“Of course I would like some more victories instead of the unbeaten draws, but the team is step by step more stable and now we hope to go into a beautiful spring time,” he added.
Van Gaal, who succinctly described his relationship with Hiddink as “professional”, is buoyed by United’s impressive 3-0 midweek victory over Stoke City.
He believes a repeat of such form could prompt a revival of title ambitions for his side, who sit 10 points off the pace in fifth with 14 matches remaining.
“I have said that only Crystal Palace and Arsenal this season were better [in matches against] Manchester United,” he said.
“But we have to show it in a row of games that you win. In this competition, everything is possible.”
Diego Costa is again set to lead the line alone in attack for Chelsea, with Radamel Falcao (groin) and Loic Remy (calf) out once more.
Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato is still building match fitness following his loan move from Corinthians, but winger Pedro is back in training following a groin complaint.
United’s midfield will once again be without Bastian Schweinsteiger as the Germany captain continues to battle an knee injury sustained during the FA Cup third-round win over Sheffield United.
Phil Jones (ankle) is stepping up his recovery, while Ashley Young (groin), Marcos Rojo (shoulder), Antonio Valencia (ankle) and Luke Shaw (broken leg) remain long-term absentees.
Key Opta stats:
– Chelsea are unbeaten in their last six league matches against Manchester United (W3 D3).
– United have lost 16 times to Chelsea in the Premier League era, more than any other opponent.
– Chelsea have drawn their past three Premier League games at Stamford Bridge – they have never reeled off four straight home draws in the history of the competition.
– Wayne Rooney has scoerd five goals in his past five league appearances, more than the four he managed in the previous 25.
– Chelsea are yet to record back-to-back wins in the Premier League this season.
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