Chelsea will be looking to put a major dent into Manchester United's title chances when they welcome the Premier League champions to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea (14-4-3) would pull 12 points clear of United with a win, leaving the Red Devils languishing outside the Champions League spots. However, despite the apparent gulf in class this season, the Chelsea boss is keen to point out that this weekend's visitors to west London are still the biggest club in the country and a very dangerous opponent.
"We don't play against a team that are 11 points behind the leader, we play against the champions, we play against Manchester United," said Mourinho in his pre-match press conference. "That's the way I start my notes in the programme and that's exactly the way I feel. I've been in the game a long time, I've played dozens and dozens of derbies and classic matches, games between the big teams and that's what experience says. On many occasions, the team that looks to be in the most difficult situation appears stronger in the match, that's why I consider this game especially dangerous.
"United are United, I believe they will push all the way. The way this league is at the moment, I think for all the big teams the first objective is to secure a place in the top four because it will be difficult to get it."
Manchester United (11-4-6) suffered a concerning dip in form at the start of January, failing to win matches in both the FA Cup and League Cup, but have won five of their last six league games to maintain an outside chance of defending their domestic title. David Moyes has come in for plenty of criticism for how he has handled the takeover from the most successful manager in English football history, but star striker Robin Van Persie insists that the new boss must be allowed to settle.
"Moyes needs time, he's new," said Van Persie. "The manager is our leading man and he will change things around.
"We have lost too many points this year, but we are doing everything we can to change that. It will improve sooner rather than later."
Chelsea have injury doubts over Frank Lampard (hip) and are missing Branislav Ivanovic (knee), while United have doubts over Patrice Evra (knee), Jonny Evans (back), Rio Ferdinand (knee), Wayne Rooney (groin), Ashley Young (shoulder), Phil Jones (knee), Marouane Fellaini (wrist), Nani (hamstring) and Van Persie (hip).
It was a goalless draw when these teams met back in August, with just seven attempts registered on target in the whole 90 minutes. That result means that the Blues are unbeaten in five games (in all competitions) against United.
Chelsea lost just one of their seven league meetings with United under Mourinho's management, conceding only three goals in those matches. Throughout his career the Portuguese manager has enjoyed terrific success against the Red Devils, losing just three of 17 combined games against them as manager of Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
United have won more points away from home than they have at Old Trafford this season.