Man Utd v Chelsea preview
The biggest game of the season so far will see Man Utd fight to defend top spot from Chelsea on Sunday.
By Rachel Griffiths - Follow me on Twitter @SkySportsRachG
Last Updated: 08/05/11 9:38am
The biggest game of the season so far will see Manchester United fight to defend the Premier League top spot from Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Just mere months ago the Blues' chances of retaining the title appeared slim, with Carlo Ancelotti's men having slumped to their worst run in the league for almost 15 years to leave them a distant fifth in the standings.
Fastforward 11 weeks and Chelsea are the in-form side, and poised to leapfrog United into pole position for the first time since November if they clinch a three-point haul at the Theatre of Dreams.
In terms of definitive battles, Sunday's clash does not get much bigger, with the encounter likely to play a key role is determining whether the silverware ends up in the hands of United or back in the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet.
The Red Devils saw their title ambitions shaken last weekend when a lacklustre display at Arsenal led to them suffering an untimely 1-0 defeat.
And after being shut out in the cold over the festive period, that result has well and truly opened the door for the second-placed Blues.
Despite United's setback, their confidence was no doubt restored by a 4-1 European triumph at home to Schalke in midweek, which sealed their progression to the UEFA Champions League final, where Spanish giants Barcelona await.
Having overcome that hurdle, the significance of Sunday's showdown has not been lost on United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who has boldly stated his belief the Red Devils will go on to win the title in their last two games if they manage to overthrow their West London visitors at the weekend.
The importance he is giving the clash was also underlined in midweek when the Scotsman made eight changes to his starting line-up to take on their Bundesliga visitors at Old Trafford, with several fringe players involved in the rout.
United could find the going considerably tougher on Sunday against a Chelsea side which has scooped a formidable 25 points from their last 27 encounters, claiming successive wins in their last five games.
The Red Devils' own performances of late have lacked the dominance displayed earlier in the campaign, with last weekend's defeat and a goalless draw against Newcastle just over two weeks ago highlighting some weaknesses in Ferguson's side.
When the teams collided at Stamford Bridge in March the Blues won 2-1 to keep, what seemed back then, slender title hopes breathing.
But that triumph could prove highly valuable if Ancelotti's side manage another victory over their title rivals in what is sure to be a nail-biting showdown on Sunday.
United are boosted by the news star striker Wayne Rooney will return for Sunday's clash after winning his fitness race.
The hitman has shrugged off a minor hamstring strain in time to feature and will be looking to revive his goalscoring form against the Blues.
Ferguson is expected to field a full strength side following his numerous changes against Schalke, with central defensive duo Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand set to be reinstated to the starting XI having been rested in midweek.
Darren Fletcher will not start for the Red Devils as he continues his recovery from a recent virus.
Ancelotti has no injury concerns to his likely first-choice starting XI for Sunday's trip to Old Trafford.
Jose Bosingwa is unavailable, while Yury Zhirkov is a doubt but will undergo a late fitness test.
The Italian manager still has a selection headache on his hands as he juggles strikers Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and Nicolas Anelka, while fellow forward Salomon Kalou is in good form after scoring three goals in the Blues' last four games.
Possible starting XIs:
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Fabio, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Anderson, Scholes, Park, Rooney, Hernandez.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Essien, Mikel, Lampard, Malouda, Drogba, Torres.