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The History Boys: Chelsea vs. Manchester United

We’ve been rooting through dusty archives all afternoon to highlight the six important lessons which United and Chelsea can take from their previous encounters.

1. Switch on from the first minute …

In a tight contest between two rivals, the last thing that you want to do is give the opposition an early advantage.

With just 27 seconds on the clock of their October 1999 meeting, Manchester United goalkeeper Massimo Taibi was caught admiring the Stamford Bridge architecture as Dan Petrescu launched a long ball into the box.

The day-dreaming Taibi came. He flapped. He missed, and Gus Poyet was on hand to give Chelsea an early lead.

The Italian’s mistake gave Chelsea crucial momentum as they went on to record a memorable 5-0 win.

2. … and play until the final whistle.

Having sauntered into a 5-0 lead, one can maybe forgive Manchester United for resting on their laurels for the final ten minutes of their 1998 FA Cup match at the Bridge.

However, as long as there is time left on the clock, there is still hope. By the time the final whistle had gone, Chelsea had reduced their deficit to two through goals from Graeme Le Saux and a Gianluca Vialli brace.

United weren’t properly punished on this occasion but, having been the architects of dramatic comebacks on so many occasions themselves, they should really know better.

3. If an arrogant opponent somehow gets to take two penalties, he’ll almost certainly put both in the same corner.

Following a completely uninspiring opening half, a little bit of Gallic arrogance turned the 1994 FA Cup final on its head.

Presented with two penalties in the space of six minutes, Manchester United’s Eric Cantona swaggered up to the mark and double-bluffed Dmitri Kharine, putting both penalties in the exact same spot.

4. A little bit of ingenuity might be needed to break a deadlock …

… although the referee and his assistants might not fully understand the legality of your trickery.

When the sides met at Old Trafford, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs pulled off a clever set-piece from a corner kick, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to power home a header on the stroke of half-time. Before the ball had hit the net, however, Howard Webb’s assistant had flagged, indicating that the corner had not been taken correctly.

In fact, it had – the lino just wasn’t paying close enough attention to Rooney’s sleight of foot.

In the end, it didn’t really matter, as United ran out 3-0 winners with goals from Vidic, Rooney and Berbatov.

5. Check your footwear at frequent intervals.

Otherwise you may find yourself nursing a silver medal rather than gold. Ain’t that the truth, JT?

6. Beware the dreaded “guard of honour”.

There can be fewer things more galling than having to form a guard of honour for your rivals after they have just won another league title.

A win tonight would see United go seven points clear at the top of the table, putting one hand on a record-breaking 19th league title. Provided Arsenal can keep pace, it’s likely that the title’s final destination could be decided when the two sides meet on 1 May at the Emirates.

If that happens, and United do win the league in North London in early May, they’ll no doubt be expecting a guard of honour from their opponents the following week – Chelsea.