The Hard Tackle looks back at a classic clash featuring Chelsea and Manchester United ahead of their Premier League clash this midweek.

Chelsea and Manchester United have been the powerhouses of the Premier League era, being two of the most successful clubs in the last three decades. But recent seasons have seen them dawdle in mediocrity, with neither team looking any closer to becoming a contender for the title.

Manchester United began the Premier League era with a band and won 13 titles in 20 years. But mediocrity and Premier League irrelevance have been the name of the game since Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012/13 season.

As for Chelsea, they saw their stock skyrocketing after Roman Abramovic took over the club early in the 2000s. The Russian businessman transformed the West London club into a powerhouse in domestic and European football, with Chelsea winning every trophy and rarely ending a campaign without a title.

That has changed since the Todd Boehly-led consortium took over Chelsea in the wake of the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war. While the Blues have spent over £1 billion in four transfer windows, their fortunes have plummeted, as they have gone from being title challengers to a mid-table team.

Chelsea spent the 2022/23 season outside the top half of the Premier League table, with three managers taking charge of the first team. Mauricio Pochettino replaced Frank Lampard last summer but has struggled to fare any better. So, the pressure has been mounting on the Argentine tactician, with a few players putting their tools down.

As for Manchester United, they have blown hot and cold throughout the past decade, struggling to finish in the top four in successive campaigns. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the only manager to succeed in doing that, which showcases just how far the Red Devils have fallen in the last ten-plus years.

Erik ten Hag was seemingly the man to transform their fortunes after ending their trophy drought last summer. But the good times have ended this term, with Manchester United not looking like a cohesive team in any phase of the game.

Meanwhile, Chelsea and Manchester United have been familiar foes in the Premier League era, with one club usually enjoying long spells of unbeaten runs against the other. The Red Devils have had the measure of Chelsea in recent meetings, winning the last two clashes while losing only once in 14 match-ups.

However, half of these 14 meetings have ended in a stalemate, suggesting they have been on a relatively even pedestal in the past half a dozen years. However, Chelsea last beat Manchester United in July 2020 and will be desperate to clinch three points when the two sides lock horns on Thursday. But before that, we look back at a classic clash featuring Chelsea and Manchester United.

Laying the setting

Before we talk about the classic clash, let us talk about how Chelsea and Manchester United have fared thus far this season. And both giants have barely produced anything to write home about in the 2023/24 campaign.

Manchester United would have hoped to close the gap to Arsenal and Manchester City after finishing behind the duo in the 2022/23 season. However, they have fallen behind Liverpool, Aston Villa, and Tottenham Hotspur, with the table-topping Reds nearly 20 points ahead.

Manchester United’s sub-par showings have not only been restricted to the Premier League as they bowed out of the UEFA Champions League in the group stage, not even finishing third to drop to the Europa League. Meanwhile, they only lasted until the Round of 16 in the Carabao Cup, losing heavily to Newcastle United.

However, the FA Cup has provided some relief, with Manchester United reaching the semi-finals after coming from behind to beat Liverpool 4-3 in the quarter-finals last month. That will give the Red Devils the opportunity to win a trophy and ease the mounting pressure on Erik ten Hag.

As for Chelsea, they have gone from 12th in the Premier League standings last season to the same position this term and can only hope to qualify for the UEFA Europa Conference League. However, they have been impressive in domestic knockout competitions, reaching the Carabao Cup final and the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

Meanwhile, recent results in the Premier League do not help their causes either. Manchester United had been unbeaten across all competitions until midway through February. However, they have won only one of their last four top-flight clashes, beating Everton 2-0 at Old Trafford through two penalties.

As for Chelsea, they have slightly improved in the last few weeks, having not tasted defeat in the Premier League since February 1 and going six games without a loss. However, that streak might paint a false picture, with the West London club winning three matches and losing as many.

Thursday’s Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge is crucial for both Chelsea and Manchester United as they look to reach their objectives. Manchester United can still ensure Champions League qualification by finishing in the top four, especially with Tottenham playing out a 1-1 draw with West Ham United on Tuesday and Aston Villa facing Manchester City on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Chelsea will be eager to return to the top half, and beating Manchester United will go a long way in achieving that. Before that happens, we look back at a classic clash featuring the two Premier League behemoths, which happened on October 28, 2012.

What happened on October 28, 2012?

As we go back over a decade, things are much different. Chelsea and Manchester United are two of the biggest teams in the Premier League. The clubs have traded blows for the title for nearly ten years, with Manchester City recently becoming a thorn in their sides by lifting the coveted trophy in the 2011/12 season.

The noisy neighbours were as boisterous as ever, while Chelsea surprisingly finished sixth in the Premier League standings. However, they won the UEFA Champions League to retain their spot in Europe’s premier club competition.

However, the Blues were back to the Premier League summit towards the end of October 2012, with Manchester United and Manchester City also vying for the title to make it a three-horse race for the top prize. And they had occupied the top spot since Gameweek 2, dropping points only once in an unbeaten eight-game start to the season.

That all changed on October 28, 2012, as a pulsating encounter ended with Manchester United beating a nine-man Chelsea a 3-2 defeat thanks to Javier Hernandez’s late strike.

Manchester United took an early two-goal lead thanks to an own goal by David Luiz and a 12th-minute strike by Robin van Persie, who continued his electric start to the 2012/13 season. However, Chelsea fought back to return to level terms by the 53rd minute, with Juan Mata and Ramires finding the back of the net.

The game then turned on its head when Fernando Torres and Branislav Ivanovic saw red in a span of five minutes, with the latter earning a direct dismissal for a dangerous tackle on Ashley Young. However, Mark Clattenburg’s decision to send Torres off for a dive (which had not been the case) left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Chelsea supporters. That said, the Spaniard might have been fortunate to escape a red card for a high boot on Tom Cleverley earlier.

Nevertheless, the two red cards set up the win for Javier Hernandez, although Chelsea fans and Roberto Di Matteo would have felt aggrieved for a second time in the game, as the Mexican striker was in an offside position. That sent the home fans into a fit of fury as they threw objects onto the pitch, injuring a steward.

The fiery encounter encapsulated the rivalry that had grown between Chelsea and Manchester United in the previous decade. More importantly, the result took Manchester United to within a point of Chelsea at the top of the table. The Red Devils did not look back after that.

The Aftermath

The result on October 28, 2012, proved to be the catalyst for Manchester United to win a record-extending 20th league title. The Red Devils made an ordinary start to the 2012/13 season, with Everton beating them 1-0 to leave them 16th in the standings.

However, Manchester United only lost four more games that term while dropping points in draws on five occasions. Such was the dominance of Sir Alex Ferguson and his charges that they did not concede the top spot after November, winning the title with four games to spare.

Supports hold red ‘champions’ flags during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford in Manchester, northwest England, on May 12, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images)

In the end, they finished a comfortable 11 points clear of Manchester City, who had won the title on goal difference in the previous season. As for Chelsea, they embarked on a seven-game winless run after losing to Manchester United, with that run of results costing Roberto Di Matteo his job.

The Blues never recovered from that setback, even though they lost only four more games that campaign. Rafael Benitez replaced Di Matteo in November, with Chelsea fans not warming up to him due to his past connection with Liverpool. However, he guided the West London club to successful campaigns in knockout competitions.

Chelsea reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup while winning the UEFA Europa League, beating Benfica 2-1 in the final thanks to an injury-time winner by Branislav Ivanovic. However, that season lives long in the memory of Manchester United fans as that was their last Premier League title, with Sir Alex Ferguson calling time on his legendary managerial career. The supporters have longed for another title-winning campaign since then.

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