by Karl Hofer
For a club that has dominated the domestic game in modern times, United’s home league record against Chelsea is far from impressive. In the modern Premier League era, United have won eight, drawn seven and lost six against the Blues.
It’s fairly common knowledge that Chelsea have the best record of any other team in the Premier League against United, but this is seen as something of a modern phenomenon. It is not.
If you look at what happened between the two clubs at Old Trafford before the Premier League, all the way back a quarter of a century to the 1966-67 season, you’ll see something quite extraordinary;
United wins: one. Draws: eight. Chelsea wins: eight.
Perhaps the most painful for United of those eight defeats – and bear in mind one of those was a 4-0 as the newly crowned European Champions in 1968 – was Chelsea’s 2-1 win in April 1986. Despite Everton and Liverpool breaking away from the chasing pack, both clubs were still grimly hanging on in the title race. Neither side were in any kind of form going into this meeting. Chelsea were squandering away the games they had in hand on the leaders, having just been slapped 4-0 at home by fellow contenders West Ham and (even more disastrously) 6-0 away to neighbours QPR.
United meanwhile were starting to resemble that depressed drunk guy at a party, rambling to themselves in the corner with bottle in hand. Having seen a 10 point lead at Christmas dissolve into nothing, Ron Atkinson’s side knew their long wait for the title would continue for sure unless they won this one. This was make or break for both clubs.
After a goalless first half, Kerry Dixon beat the offside trap to score his first goal for four months. United then equalised through a Jesper Olsen penalty, big Doug Rougvie doing what he did best; this time sending Hughes crashing to the floor in the area. But Dixon had the final say in the dying moments to knock United out of the title race and send the many thousands of travelling fans into delirium and the home fans into despair. The future looked bright momentarily for John Neal’s team but Chelsea would subsequently win only one of their last seven games to finish in sixth spot.
United’s poor form continued through the beginning of the following season, and with the club languishing at the foot of the table in November manager Ron Atkinson was dismissed – with Alex Ferguson and his assistant Archie Knox taking over that same day.
Without question the greatest match between the sides was an 11 goal thriller at Stamford Bridge back in October 1954. Ted Drake had taken over Chelsea in 1952 and had been busy trying to rid them of their image, one that saw them as the butt of many a comedian’s jokes in the music-halls up and down the land. Out went the nickname ‘The Pensioners’, replaced with the more respectable ‘Blues’. Also dispatched was the affable septuagenarian on the clubs crest. This was a new Chelsea, one that Drake was instilling with a winning mentality.
To that end Drake drafted in solid defenders Peter Sillett and future England boss Ron Greenwood, plus striker Roy Bentley. As a consequence the team established itself in the top flight and were no longer involved in relegation battles, but nobody expected more than a safe mid-table position when the 1954-55 season came round.
The favourites for the title were reigning champions Wolverhampton Wanderers and Matt Busby’s upcoming Manchester United side.
The game on October 16th was a glowing confirmation of the emergence of the attacking prowess of the ‘Busby’s Babes’. The visitors went 1-0 up with Dennis Viollet opening the scoring but a pair of unknown amateurs making their debuts returned fire as Seamus O’Connell equalized before the Thermos-flask seller Jim Lewis put the home side 2-1 up. Tommy Taylor and then Viollet put United back in front 2-3, a lead they held at half-time.
The same pair in the same order, Taylor and then Viollet (completing his hat-trick) seemed to have put Matt Busby’s side out of sight at 2-5 but then Ken Armstrong pulled one back for Chelsea. Jackie Blanchflower looked to have sealed the points when he made it 3-6, but cattle-farmer O’Connell then scored twice to record a famous debut hat-trick and set up a grandstand finish, but United’s shaky defence clung on for an extraordinary 5-6 triumph.
Chelsea lost their next two games – completing a run of six games without a win – to end October in 12th place, Wolves having taken over from United at the top. But then Drake’s Ducklings got their act together losing only four more games all season as they stormed up the table and, beating Wolves home and away, shocked the nation to win the title. Their last defeat of the season was at Old Trafford – but by then, the title, Chelsea’s first trophy in their 50 year history, had been won.
The Busby Babes would have to wait to make their mark on English football’s roll of honour.
If you fancy a repeat of that scoreline then you’ll no doubt be delighted to hear that William Hill are offering a handsome 500-1 on it. Realistically the game is set to be a much tighter affair, there’s a lot at stake and it’s very early in the season. Both teams have new managers and neither will want to concede any ground so early on in the race for the title. So Bobby’s Bets recommends a draw at 11/5.
You can also get 8/1 on Wayne Rooney to open the scoring, although with Mourinho rumoured to be lining up a third bid for the unsettled striker we can’t be 100% sure if he’ll be in red or blue on the day.
Bobby’s Bet of the Day: 10/1 for Frank Lampard to continue his good start to the season by scoring the opening goal.