Branislav Ivanovic has admitted Chelsea will face "the first big test" of the André Villas-Boas era at Old Trafford on Sunday but the Serbia defender is unperturbed by Manchester United's blistering opening to the defence of their title.
United have scored 11 goals in their two home league games this season, and 18 times in their opening four matches, and have now dropped only two points at home since Chelsea won in Manchester in April 2010 en route to claiming the title under Carlo Ancelotti. Villas-Boas is overseeing a steadier start to the campaign, his team's victories less spectacular but quietly constructed, with the progress the new manager is making likely to be better gauged after Sunday's match.
"This is the first big, big test of our team and how we've improved, and we're going there trying to show our best football and to secure a good result," said Ivanovic, who is likely to partner John Terry in the centre of defence. "United have started very well this season and have improved as a group. But, if you remember, we started last season the same way. It will be the hardest game for us until now and we will have to show 100% of our power. Psychologically, for both teams, it's a very important game."
Chelsea had started last term in similarly staggering fashion, winning 6-0 home and away in their first two matches, against West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic, before their form petered out towards the end of the year. They went on to lose both legs of their Champions League quarter-final against United in the spring and, having clawed their way back into the title race over the run-in, effectively surrendered the championship with a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in May. Javier Hernández converted in the opening minute that afternoon following a mistake from David Luiz and the visitors never recovered from that dismal opening in a game they had to win.
"It was a different situation last year because we had to win there, and when you play a big game away from home which you have to win then, psychologically, it's completely different," Ivanovic said. "But we have to take a good message and be more motivated from those games which we lost. We have our aims and our ideas for what we must try to use out on the pitch. Every tackle, every pass – everything – you feel directly how strong your opponent's performance is, and we know they've improved, but let's see what happens."
The Chelsea side want to make a statement at Old Trafford and remind the other contenders of the deposed champions' qualities. "We will go there to win because it's important for us to show our mission to win back the title," Florent Malouda said, echoing the sentiments expressed by Villas-Boas in the wake of the Champions League victory over Bayer Leverkusen at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
Didier Drogba will miss the game as he continues his recovery from the concussion suffered against Norwich City last month, but Frank Lampard and Terry are expected to return to the starting lineup, with Fernando Torres to lead the line.