The chances of the current United team protecting their forebears’ record are slim, even if Louis van Gaal’s team should prevail at Stamford Bridge to continue their fine form. Chelsea have also dropped off from their pre-Christmas peak. However, United travel to west London looking in far greater fettle than the team almost certainly destined to win the title.Their stutters since the turn of the year are characteristic of recent champions. Manchester City’s titles in 2012 and 2014 saw them stumble before late surges while between those, Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season ended up being a grind toward a 13th title.Winning the Premier League has become an ever tougher slog, perhaps a factor in English teams’ poor performances in the Champions League. The previous champions to reach the semifinal were United in 2011. In the preseason, Mourinho bullishly set out his target as a league title and keeps true to his word. While others spoke of unbeaten runs and quadruples, he remained dismissive. “We don’t choose competitions. The next match is the most important thing,” he declared after a League Cup win at Derby in December.
Chelsea’s Premier League supremacy has been inarguable. While the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United are on eight- and seven-match winning streaks, respectively, both are paying for earlier mediocrity and as such, are fighting solely for place money within the top four. Chelsea have lost just twice, and not since New Year’s Day at Tottenham.
The next two matches allow Mourinho’s men to assert their primacy, first against United on Saturday and then against Arsenal on Sunday in a week. A marker for next season can be laid, too, to quell talk that both those also-rans will mount a proper challenge in 2015-16. Here is where Chelsea can supply an epoch-making performance to remind just why they will be champions, though whether Mourinho feels the need for such a thing is an altogether different question.