At the beginning of the 2014/15 season a lot of people had doubts about Manchester United as a team and whether Louis van Gaal would be able to take the English giants back to where they belonged within Europe's elite.
The Dutchman spent a fortune to bring players like Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo and he changed the system completely. He tried various combinations at the back, different formations and tactics and for quiet a while things did not work.
Then things changed and the Red Devils went on a long unbeaten run, during which they looked far from assured but were avoiding defeats - albeit not dominating matches as they used to do under Sir Alex.
Then came the FA Cup tie against Arsenal; the only realistic chance for United to win a trophy. A moment of madness got Di Maria sent off and United were dumped out on home turf. Since then a month has passed and United have not just beaten Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City but have played them all off the pitch.
Such has been the dominance of their recent displays that many of the pundits who did not predict United to finish in the top four this season have been forced to apologise in public.
Turn around in fortunes
The two main reasons for this remarkable turn around at Old Trafford has been the impressive performances by the the defensive unit of Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Dale Blind, coupled with the improved midfield, where United have had a real revolution.
Unorthodox winger Juan Mata, tireless box-to-box Ander Herrera, imposing and sometimes unplayable Marouane Fellaini, a reborn Ashley Young and most importantly Michael Carrick, whose ability to shield the back four and spread the game with his pin point passing, have finally given Van Gaal a system where his side are not just winning, but winning comprehensively.
United have been the in-form side of 2015, largely because of their midfield dominating games; something they were unable to do even against weaker teams under David Moyes. Now, as they prepare for the biggest test of the season so far when they visit Chelsea today, Van Gaal and his team have been hit hard by injuries to Carrick, Jones, Blind, Rojo, all of whom will be missing from the key clash.
On top of that they face a manager in Jose Mourinho who just knows how to beat United. Since the first time the Portuguese faced United his record against them has been nothing short of incredible. It was imperative for United to take the same playing XI that has been so effective in the last month, but now Van Gaal has to change his back four and find an alternative to Carrick who is, let's face it, irreplaceable.
The impossible task?
Over the past few seasons United have seemed unable to cross a psychological barrier most of the times when they have visited Chelsea. They have won just two of their last 16 games at Stamford Bridge.
This will be the first time Van Gaal's Reds will face Mourinho's Blues on his home turf. Chelsea maybe sitting on top of the table but they have been anything but convincing in the recent weeks. Of course usually whenever United come to town Mourinho's troops seem to raise their game and they will have to do it again.
United on the other hand have to cope with the absence of some of their key players and destroy that psychological barrier which was only strengthened by the defensive mindset of Moyes. Perhaps United's biggest threat at Stamford Bridge will not be Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Oscar but ironically themselves.
This is the perfect opportunity for Van Gaal to prove once and for all that he has finally exorcised the demons that possessed United and brought them crashing down last season. Alternatively Mourinho could prove once and for all that the pupil has become the master.
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