Chelsea v Manchester United: the new Clasico?

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The rivalry between Chelsea and Manchester United has been one to deepen over the past decade, with the billions of Roman Abramovich making the Blues threats to the supremacy of the Red Devils in English football.

The footballing landscape in England will never be the same following the influence of Abramovich's cash on the destination of various silver-plated pots and pans, although some will always resent the impact of the Russian.

Abramovich has, however, helped significantly in the creation of one of the great rivalries of the English game and one which, perhaps, is now the most absorbing in European football.

The north west derby between Liverpool and Manchester United is held up as the most iconic rivalry on these shores but, while it will always provide intrigue, does not enjoy the same billing as it did in the past.

As Liverpool slip further down the ladder both domestically and in Europe, the bi-seasonly encounters with Manchester United lose the edge they used to enjoy, when both clubs battled for the league title.

Only El Clasico can boast greater popularity across the world than the historic Liverpool v Manchester United derby, yet the overkill of Barcelona against Real Madrid is seeing the fixture lose some of its enduring appeal.

When Barcelona and Real Madrid played out a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou in October, it was the ninth time the two clubs had met in a period of 14 months, which serves to prove that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

In that same period, Chelsea and Manchester United have faced each other on only four occasions, producing 24 goals in that time, while El Clasico produced only nine more goals in five more matches.

Of the 24 goals scored between Chelsea and United, 14 have been netted in the last two meetings - taking place within three days - with the 72 shots on goal taken in the same two matches.

The subtext of allegations about the behaviour of referee Mark Clattenburg on Sunday have removed the focus from an enthralling encounter played out at Stamford Bridge, in which Manchester United triumphed 3-2 with a late winner.

It was a match that can be regarded as a classic of the modern Premier League era, with Chelsea chalking off a two-goal United lead before the visitors snatched three points after the Blues had been reduced to nine men.

Besides the award of a penalty, the match could have served up little else in terms of drama. Fast forward to Wednesday night, and three spot-kicks were awarded in an amazing game that finished 5-4 to Chelsea. Ok, so there were no red cards this time, but what a gripping game of football.

Chelsea v Manchester United, and vice versa, has consistently served up some of the most captivating matches in European football over the past two seasons, with the aforementioned double-header preceded by scores of 3-3 and 3-1.

Add to the mix a title-deciding meeting at Old Trafford on the third-from-last weekend of the Premier League season in 2010/11 and the rivalry seldom fails to disappoint.

While El Clasico is in danger of becoming a parody of itself with the onfield histrionics and touchline tantrums often dominating proceedings, Chelsea against Manchester United is enjoying a resurgence.

Chelsea and United next meet when the Blues travel to Old Trafford on the third-from-final weekend (sound familiar?) of this campaign. Clear your diary now, as no other match this season will offer a more intriguing prospect.

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