Jose Mourinho counting on proven recipe for success against Moyes
Chelsea's Portuguese boss is relying on similar tactics he employed in first two title-winning seasons
David Moyes will be under scrutiny again on Sunday night when Manchester United visit Chelsea, but it is an equally important proving ground for the strategy of Jose Mourinho as he tries to win the title in his first season back in English football.
Fans will hope that the match is more entertaining than the reverse fixture in September, which ended in a goalless draw owing to United's lack of cutting edge and Chelsea's stifling, safety first approach.
Mourinho's apparent willingness to settle for a draw at Old Trafford was a sign that he was one of the first to grasp the fact that this would be one of the tightest title races in recent seasons and that points won and lost in matches between the big six could be a decisive factor.
The first plank of the strategy is to deny home victory to Chelsea's main rivals and Mourinho adopted similar tactics in another goalless draw at Arsenal and, to a slightly lesser extent, in a 1-1 draw at Tottenham where the Blues had to be more adventurous after conceding an early goal.
But for the strategy to work to maximum effect, Chelsea have to turn the tables when they are the home side and make sure that they take maximum points. So far it has worked like a dream as Chelsea have won both home matches against big-six opponents (2-1 against both Manchester City and Liverpool).
That puts them on course to take four points out of six against each of the other big-six teams, which appears to be Mourinho's target. Three of Chelsea's remaining five big-clashes are at Stamford Bridge, whereas Manchester City (four out of five away) and Arsenal (three out of five away) appear to face a tougher schedule that could tip the balance towards Mourinho's team.
In his first two title-winning seasons, Mourinho adopted similar tactics and his success at turning Stamford Bridge into a fortress was evident in a record of five wins and one draw from six home matches against what was then a big four.
He has picked up where he left off, as Chelsea have taken 28 points from a possible 30 at home. That has boosted Mourinho's overall home record in the Premier League to 55 wins out of 70 with no defeats, which makes them well worth considering at Sunday's odds.
Moyes has enough high-quality players to pose a serious threat to Chelsea, but there is no disguising United's problems against better-class teams this season. They have taken only five points from seven games against the teams above them in the table, giving them the worst record in matches between the top seven.
With just five goals scored in those seven games, United have not come close to the form that enabled them to win 3-2 away against both Chelsea and Manchester City this season.
Chelsea have scored at least two goals in nine of their 10 home games this season, which suggests they can outscore United. As their form has developed, particularly in shaping their midfield around the outstanding Eden Hazard, Chelsea have scored at least twice in nine of their last 11 league games and they look a dangerous side at the moment.
The rest of the Premier League programme is tricky, which has been a common theme in a season that has seen the top nine break away from the rest. One problem is that teams such as Everton, Newcastle and Southampton have shortened up so much that the handicap is a less viable option, forcing punters to consider whether they are a good win bet.
The best chance might be Everton, away to West Brom, on Monday night. Since opening their season with three draws, Roberto Martinez's men have won six of their last nine games against bottom-half teams.
On overall form over the past season and a half, Tottenham are a decent bet away to Swansea. Spurs have won 11 out of 15 away to bottom-half teams in that period and they have the only 100 per cent record in that category this season (five wins out of five).
Swansea, meanwhile, have yet to beat one of the big six teams at home under Michael Laudrup (five draws and five defeats out of 10), including three defeats out of four this season as their form has slipped.
Most of Tottenham's form figures were achieved under Andre Villas-Boas, but new manager Tim Sherwood has made a good start (four wins and a draw out of five) and his attacking approach should help them outscore Swansea.