Sir Alex Ferguson believes the skipper's captain's will have a vital bearing on his side's encounter at Stamford Bridge
Sir Alex Ferguson believes that the absence of John Terry will have a vital bearing on Sunday's potentially decisive encounter at Chelsea.
Facing a team that, uniquely in the Premier League, have beaten Manchester United more times than they have lost – 13 defeats to 12 wins, with 15 draws – Ferguson said: "Players who have been at the club for a number of years like Terry, [Ashley] Cole, [Frank] Lampard and [Petr] Cech give them stability," said Ferguson when asked how a club that has run through so many managers as Chelsea under Roman Abramovich could be such a consistent threat to Manchester United.
"Continuity with their kind of experience must help the dressing room. Terry will be a loss for them because he has been such a dominating figure. He is their captain, he has experience and he can be a ruthless defender. His presence a lot of the time was the most important thing for them. You will always miss a player like that."
The Manchester United manager would hope so. It is fully 10 years since he last won a league fixture at Stamford Bridge. Should he lose again, Roberto Di Matteo's side will go seven points clear.
"We don't want the gap to open, this could be a league in which you will suffer if you lose the big ones," said Ferguson. "We could not afford to lose to Tottenham the way we did – 2-0 down and then 3-1 down. You cannot do that at this level. If we get any more of that, we will be in trouble. Chelsea are undefeated in the Premier League and that gives you an idea of the level of consistency they have produced."
What is so surprising when seen from Old Trafford is that Chelsea have started brilliantly after radically overhauling both their style of play and their personnel. Ferguson has long admired a strong, muscular side that pivoted around Didier Drogba, whom he described as the only man who could have won Chelsea the European Cup in Munich. The combination of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata is very different.
"It is an interesting formation and not easy to deal with," he said. "They are in behind the front players all the time and we will just have to find a way of coping."
Manchester United, too, have leaned towards a diamond formation and brought in expensively-acquired personnel, although one of them, Shinji Kagawa, will miss the next four weeks with a knee injury. However, Robin van Persie, United's other major summer signing, may be as significant as any business done by Chelsea.
"His performances are getting better all the time," Ferguson said. "Against Stoke last week and on Tuesday night against Braga his movement was fantastic. We bought him for that reason – to make a difference, to give us maturity up front and some flexibility. With Welbeck, Hernández, Rooney and Van Persie, we have some fantastic alternatives and that could make the difference."