30 years of Chelsea v Manchester United: title-deciders, balloons, and icon Fergie v ‘Special One’ Mourinho

For three decades, it’s been one of the showpiece ties of the modern Premier League era. The histories of these clubs have threads weaved between them, of shared managers and memorable match-ups for glory and pride that have filled the annals of the English top flight, finds Rachel Roberts.

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Throughout the last 30 years, these two sides have accumulated 18 league titles between them, with United’s dominance of the 1990s intertwining with a resurgent Chelsea at the turn of the millennia. Statistically, head-to-head numbers reveal that this is a fixture most often ending in a draw, with 25 stalemates.

Out of the 60 games between these clubs to take place since the rebranding for the 1992/93 season, Chelsea pips the number of wins, with 18 to United’s 17. But numbers fail to paint the picture of a tie that has contributed much to Premier League folklore.

Reflecting on the legacy of these games, one individual stands out – Jose Mourinho. First arriving in England at Chelsea in 2004, the Portuguese manager guided the Blues to their first league title in 50 years at United’s expense.

Having picked up his ‘Special One’ moniker, it took victory against their title rivals at home, in April 2006, to retain the crown and secure back-to-back titles for the first time in the club’s history. A draw would have sufficed, but a 3-0 victory over the side who would have to settle for second place, made this coronation even sweeter.

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Mourinho won three league titles with Chelsea, along with three League Cups and an FA cup across two managerial spells, but has memorably cited the achievement of a second place finish as Manchester United head coach to be one of the proudest of his career.

The ‘Special One’ took charge of the Red Devils in 2016, and his first return to the capital that October proved to be a bitter homecoming, as Chelsea ran out 4-0 winners and home fans sang raptures of, ‘You’re not special anymore’ to their former boss.

Perhaps one of the most infamous Premier League moments took place two years later, in the wake of a fiery 2-2 draw. After taking the lead, Chelsea found themselves 1-2 down until Ross Barkley scored a 90+6 minute equaliser. Cue vintage Mourinho – animated on the touchline throughout, a confrontation erupted upon the final whistle and resulted in the Blues’ former manager holding three fingers up to the home crowds, a taunting gesture, reminding those who once adored him of all he had delivered to them. But if there’s one thing Mourinho is, it’s unforgettable.

Before the drama of Jose, there was the longevity of Ferguson, who won 13 league titles during his 26 years at Old Trafford, but he also had his moments at Stamford Bridge. These include one of the Premier League’s funnier moments, where a popped balloon caused the United manager to jump out of his skin, back in 2008. It was his side, however, whose bubble burst on the pitch, as their hosts found an equaliser 10 minutes from time to end that game 1-1.

By February 2012, it had been a decade since United had won away at Chelsea, and when the hosts were 3-0 up after 50 minutes, this abysmal record looked certain to continue. But two penalties from Wayne Rooney and a winner from Javier Hernandez with six minutes left on the clock rescued a point, and some pride, for the visitors, whilst adding nails in the coffin for then-Blues’ boss Andre Villas-Boas, who was relieved of his duties that March.

In more recent history, the last four fixtures between these two clubs have all resulted in draws. The latest game in April ended 1-1 thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo equaliser, however there will be no such heroics for the star striker this time round.

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After refusing to come on as a substitute and walking down the tunnel before the final whistle in United’s 2-0 victory over Tottenham on Wednesday, Ronaldo has been dropped from the squad for this evening’s Chelsea clash.

On the matter his manager, Erik Ten Hag, stated: “I am responsible for the top sport culture here. I have to set standards and values and have to control them. We are in a team. We miss him tomorrow, that is a miss for us and the squad, but I think it is important for the attitude and mentality of the group.”

In the opposing dugout, Graham Potter knows what it takes to beat the Red Devils, having led Brighton to a stunning 4-0 win back in May. Fresh from his September appointment with a winning start under his belt, his Chelsea side look to be in good form, with four wins from their last five fixtures leaving them in fourth place.

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Below them in fifth, Manchester United seem to be recovering from their tumultuous form in recent seasons, albeit with patchy results – a 3-1 win over Arsenal followed by a 6-3 battering at the hands of their ever-looming neighbours Manchester City. The midweek win over Tottenham, without Ronaldo, should give Ten Hag’s side confidence to perform without him.

While both clubs have lately fallen short of the illustrious league campaigns of past and this clash may no longer be what it once was (at least for now), this will be a good test for each side to measure up against one another and write another chapter into the history of this fixture, as they both aim for a top-four finish.

Follow Rachel on Twitter @rachellrobertts

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