If Manchester United is to build on the victory over Swansea City which ended a run of three defeats in all competitions, David Moyes will have to do something that has thus far proven impossible: mastermind a Premier League win at Stamford Bridge over a Chelsea side managed by Jose Mourinho.
It is a staggering record. In his three full seasons in charge during his first spell in London, Mourinho oversaw 44 victories and 13 draws and never once tasted defeat in the league at Stamford Bridge, and left the club in September of the 2007-08 season having gone three more home games unbeaten.
Those who followed Mourinho struggled to replicate such dominance. Avram Grant, who stepped in following the Portuguese’s departure, managed to maintain the tone established by his predecessor for the remainder of the season, while Guus Hiddink negotiated five home games without losing after taking over from Luis Felipe Scolari in February 2009.
League battles at the Bridge
The various other incumbents – managers, head coaches, interim bosses or otherwise – all lost at least one game at home, with only Carlo Ancelotti able to deliver a Premier League title in what was his first season at the club in 2010.
With the help of Roman Abramovich’s millions, Mourinho built an almost impenetrable side which simply could not be beaten at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League. In his first season in charge, Chelsea conceded just six goals there, and only once – in 2006-07, when the Blues finished second to Manchester United – has that figure moved into double digits (11).
But with only three members of Mourinho’s original squad still remaining – Petr Cech, John Terry and Frank Lampard – Chelsea has gone unbeaten at home in the league in its first 10 outings of the 2013-14 campaign, stretching The Special One’s special run over a remarkable 70 games.
So how does Mourinho do it?
Cech and Terry are two constants in both of the Chelsea boss’s spells at the club and have been ever present in the league at Stamford Bridge this season. Cech has conceded more than a single goal at home just once – against West Brom in a 2-2 draw – while the center back has already made more appearances in this campaign than he did in the entirety of 2012-13 under Roberto Di Matteo and Rafa Benitez.
Branislav Ivanovic, who joined the club in 2008, has also started every home game this season and proved a typically reliable presence, but Mourinho has rotated two other positions in the back four.
David Luiz and Gary Cahill have both partnered Terry at center back, with the England international starting seven out of 10 games at Stamford Bridge so far, while Cesar Azpilicueta – a right-sided player by trade – has offered surprising competition for Ashley Cole at left back. In his four home starts, Azpilicueta leads Cole in tackles (20 to 14), interceptions (seven to four) and clearances (23 to eight).
In midfield, the tireless Ramires has proved to be an enormous asset to Mourinho with his work rate and ability to contribute in both defense and attack. The Brazilian has scored once and provided two assists in his nine league outings at home, while leading his side in average tackles per game (4.2) and boasting a pass success rate of 86.4 percent, unmatched by any Chelsea player to have appeared as many times at Stamford Bridge this season.
While John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard and David Luiz have all played in central midfield this season, the re-signing of Nemanja Matic indicates that Mourinho is looking for a similar contribution from Ramires’s midfield partner. The Chelsea boss has described Matic as “a fantastic all-round midfielder” who has vastly improved since leaving for Benfica in a deal which saw Luiz move the other way three years ago.
The signing of Matic, in a deal understood to be worth almost 21 million pounds, suggests a move away from deploying one typical holding midfield player and towards utilizing two versatile and energetic players. Gone are the days of ‘The Claude Makelele Role’ made famous by the France international at Stamford Bridge.
But while that role may change, and the formation may have been tweaked since Mourinho’s first reign at Chelsea from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 shape , the same basic principles remain and are exemplified by the continued development of Eden Hazard.
The Belgian, also an ever present at Stamford Bridge in the league this season, has scored five goals at home and provided two assists. But it is Hazard’s new-found willingness to defend and work on all aspects of his game which has impressed Mourinho.
"He [Hazard] trains much better, he concentrates much better,” Mourinho told the Evening Standard. “Tactically, he has had a big evolution. He understands how to put his qualities on the surface of the team. He understands the best way to hide his weaknesses.”
With Oscar and Willian showing a similar tactical understanding and desire to tackle, Chelsea can move into a 4-5-1 shape without the ball, but still quickly transition to a four-man attack when back in possession.
Even without a striker with the unique blend of pace, power and strength of Didier Drogba, who was so important to past Chelsea sides, the Blues have still scored 22 goals at home so far this season – a figure bettered only by Manchester City and Liverpool, who have both suffered defeat at Stamford Bridge this term.
"To me it is not a big deal," Mourinho said of the record after a controversial draw with West Brom. "One day I have to lose at home and the day I lose it will be a big day because it is a day to remember how many matches I was unbeaten."
Moyes will be hoping Sunday proves to be Mourinho's day to remember.
Stats provided by WhoScored.com