An in-form Didier Drogba is capable of ruffling the feathers of even the most confident defences.
So it will be with some trepidation that Manchester United, whose back four has been looking decidedly shaky of late, pitch up for Sunday’s Premier League summit meeting with a Chelsea side whose confident start to the season has been underpinned by Drogba’s return to his battering-ram best.
The Ivorian’s late double in the Champions League win over Atletico Madrid in Spain took his tally for the season to 12 in all competitions and team-mate Florent Malouda has never seen the striker looking more driven.
“Didier is really happy and enjoying his form at the moment,” Malouda said.
“He always believed in himself, even in the second division in France he was dreaming about it and preparing himself. Even at this level he is working harder and harder.”
United have not won at Stamford Bridge since April 2002 and the manner in which Sir Alex Ferguson’s side capitulated at Liverpool last month and then conceded three goals to CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford on Tuesday will not have encouraged fans to believe that particular seven-year itch is about to be scratched.
Chelsea have won all nine of their domestic and European fixtures at home this season, scoring 25 goals in the process while conceding only one.
But Ferguson is counting on the chastening impact of the defeat at Liverpool to act as a galvanising force for his players.
“It’s always a hard game at Chelsea, but we’ll deal with it better than we did at Anfield, I’m sure of that,” the Scot predicted.
With Rio Ferdinand unlikely to be involved because of the latest recurrence of a troubling a calf injury, Ferguson will be relieved to have Serbian centreback Nemanja Vidic available again.
Dimitar Berbatov and Ryan Giggs, who also missed the 3-3 draw with CSKA, are also on track to return from injury while Wayne Rooney, who started on the bench in midweek, will return to the starting line-up looking for a goal to celebrate the birth of his baby boy, Kai Wayne.
With either one or both of the top two destined to drop points on Sunday, Arsenal will seek to close the gap on them by taking maximum points from Saturday evening’s trip to Wolves.
“If we want to challenge for the title this is the kind of game we have to win,” acknowledged Robin van Persie, whose form has been every bit as significant for the Gunners this season as Drogba’s has for Chelsea.
Manchester City, whose early season momentum has been stalled by a run of four draws, will welcome back Emmanuel Adebayor for the visit of Burnley to Eastlands, much to the relief of manager Mark Hughes.
“You always want players that can produce moments of magic when the team is not dominating proceedings as you would like,” Hughes said.
“Those type of players have the ability to change the game in your favour. Ade has that capability and having the option of him this weekend will be a bonus for us.”
Liverpool have to wait until Monday, when Birmingham visit Anfield, to try and bounce back from a week which has left the club’s chances of progressing in the Champions League looking extremely slim, and placed manager Rafael Benitez under more pressure than at any time in his five-year reign.
Benitez however is not under quite as much pressure as the Hull manager Phil Brown, who knows he could find himself out of a job if his players fail to produce a positive result in Sunday’s home clash with Stoke.
In Saturday’s other games, Tottenham entertain Sunderland, Aston Villa are at home to Bolton on Saturday and bottom side Portsmouth travel to Blackburn, who slipped into the relegation zone as a result of West Ham’s midweek win over Villa.
Wigan take on Fulham at the DW Stadium on Sunday, which will also see West Ham attempt to build on the win over Villa, their first at home this season.
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
Aston Villa v Bolton, Blackburn v Portsmouth, Manchester City v Burnley, Tottenham v Sunderland, Wolves v Arsenal (1730 GMT)
Chelsea v Manchester Utd (1600 GMT), Hull v Stoke (1330 GMT), West Ham v Everton, Wigan v Fulham
Liverpool v Birmingham (2000 GMT)
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