Blues will be up against it, trying to contain United
The Manchester United juggernaut was halted in Europe with a midweek Champions League draw at Benfica, but on domestic form they rate a good bet in tomorrow's showdown against Chelsea.
United have won all five matches in domestic competition this season and have made potentially difficult early fixtures look easy. Three of the five domestic matches have been against other teams from the 'big six' and yet they have scored 21 goals overall, including three against both Manchester City and Tottenham and eight against Arsenal.
A potential problem for United tomorrow night is that they don't look totally secure at the back, with David de Gea still settling into the English game, but so far their attack has easily covered any cracks.
While United have been spectacular this season, Chelsea have been workmanlike. The Blues started their Champions League campaign with a win, 2-0 at home to Bayer Leverkusen, but again it was laboured. In the Premier League,they have needed goals in the last 10 minutes to beat both West Brom and Norwich, and their only goals away from home came last week at Sunderland.
Whereas United have breezed through seemingly tough opening fixtures, Chelsea have had it relatively easy but been nowhere near as impressive. Three of their four Premier League games have been against teams in the bottom eight and tomorrow night's match is their first against one of the 'big six'.
Chelsea's problem, as pointed out pre-season, is that their squad is ageing and struggling to cope with the Premier League pace. Fernando Torres may have been mistranslated with his comments about 'older' teammates being 'very slow' in their approach play, but anyone would be justified in using such terminology.
Juan Mata looks a good addition but, while Chelsea are sure to continue to be tough and obdurate, they still have ground to make up if they are going to challenge United. Last season, Chelsea finished fifth in the mini-league of the 'big six' and had the most defeats (five), four of which came in their away games.
Chelsea also kept the fewest clean sheets in 'big-six' clashes (two in 10) and one of those was on the road, which suggests they will not be able to contain United. United have won 36 of their last 40 home matches in the Premier League, 11 out of 12 against the 'big six'.
United have scored in all but one of those 40 home games (the blank resulted in one of their only two defeats - the other was 2-1 against Chelsea the season before last, but that day United's available strikers were Dimitar Berbatov and Federico Macheda). Last season, with Wayne Rooney in the team every time, United won four of the five meetings with Chelsea and the only reverse was in the away Premier League fixture. Four of the five games had over 2.5 goals.
It is highly likely United will score points in a home win and over 2.5 goals, with 30 of United's last 40 home games having gone over that mark, including 10 out of 12 against 'big-six' teams.
Tottenham v Liverpool, the other 'big-six' clash tomorrow, looks tough to call, especially with the hosts possibly weakened by their trip to Greece in the Europa League.
Tottenham are difficult to weigh up at this stage, having had their first Premier League match postponed and then been thrown in at the deep end with games against the rampant Manchester clubs. Harry Redknapp's side got off the mark last week with a good victory at Wolves, but now they are up against a big-six side again.
Before their 5-1 demolition by City three weeks ago, Tottenham under Redknapp had a strong home record against big-six teams - seven wins, six draws and just one defeat out of 14. They are the pick on the handicap, but only tentatively.
The other two 'big-six' teams are away - Manchester City at Fulham and Arsenal at Blackburn. No team keeps winning forever, not even Barcelona, and backers will have to choose their bets carefully on City now that they are being priced up.
Their figures are not yet up to the standard set by United and Chelsea in recent seasons, and that makes them a risk at short odds in away games such as tomorrow's visit to Fulham.
Equally, City are not easy to oppose as they won seven out of 10 away to bottom-half teams last season - a category Fulham may fall into this season. City should win, but the rewards are low for backers.
Arsenal are not a certainty even against Blackburn, who prop up the table at this early stage. The Gunners are still not definitively out of the slump induced by their Carling Cup final defeat in February, and since then they have won just three out of 15 in the Premier League. That makes them a big risk at odds-on.
A more interesting bet is Aston Villa v Newcastle, which brings together two of the better starters among the rest. Newcastle have become a solid unit under Alan Pardew and rate a good handicap bet again, having lost only one of their last 10 Premier League games.
Before that run, they lost at Villa in April but the score was only 1-0 and this should be tight again.
Newcastle United, Manchester United, Leeds United, Athletic Bilbao, Werder Bremen, Schalke 04, Napoli
TOP 5 BETS
1 Manchester United home win
Still the team to back in the big matches
2 Leeds home win
Results have been distorted by send-offs
3 Bilbao home win
Good odds for last season's fourth-best home team
4 Werder Bremen on handicap
Back at the top with strong early form
5 Napoli on handicap
Can build on good midweek draw at Manchester CityToday