New-look Chelsea are quick but vulnerable says Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher

 

Darren Fletcher has seen enough of Chelsea over the last few years to know that they have changed radically. The team laden with playmakers under Roberto Di Matteo is a world away from the powerful, efficient machine Jose Mourinho once used to steamroller opponents.

But that does not make them any less dangerous to his club, Manchester United, who trail the Premier League leaders by four points as they prepare to meet them at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

The speed with which young and quick footballers such as Oscar and Eden Hazard have fitted into the supposedly ageing team that Andre Villas-Boas failed to break up has alarmed their rivals at Old Trafford.

"It used to be a big, strong, physical side," said Fletcher. "You found yourself playing against Ballack, Makélelé and Lampard [who is likely to miss Sunday's game with a calf injury] in midfield and Drogba up front. Now you tend to be facing more Barcelona-style players – the small, intricate ones who get in the pockets behind you and play the killer pass."

Nowhere was that better demonstrated than in the 4-2 victory over Villas-Boas' Tottenham last Saturday. It was the fifth time this season Di Matteo's side had scored four goals or more – in their pomp under Mourinho, the stock scoreline was a 1-0 win.

"Because they are looking to get into the pockets behind you, you are not really up against anyone," Fletcher said. "You have to be aware, look over your shoulder and communicate, because they will want to get in behind you.

"But at the same time, it gives you opportunities to break at them. If we do win the ball, it will leave a lot more spaces than you normally expect against Chelsea. Traditionally, they are very solid, have men behind the ball and are hard to beat. However, with all those attacking players, they may give us spaces to exploit. The neutrals will want a classic but we just want a victory."

Until illness struck him down, Fletcher was one of the men Sir Alex Ferguson would turn to for the kind of encounter United will endure at Chelsea. The Scotland captain was not the most eye-catching midfielder in his manager's armoury but he was among the most reliable – and at Stamford Bridge, where United have not won a league fixture in a decade, reliability is not an optional extra.

Well though the 28-year-old performed in Tuesday night's jittery 3-2 win over Braga in the Champions League, it would be a surprise if Fletcher started a fixture that will be one of the pivots of the season. Ulcerative colitis, a chronic bowel disease that drains its victim of weight and energy meant he had started one match in 10 months and in the summer headlines suggested it may even cost Fletcher his career.

"If you told me in June or July that I would be starting Champions League matches now, I would not have believed you," he said. "I always felt I was one who did appreciate the game and how fortunate I was, but after going through something like this you do appreciate it more."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks