They say there is never a good time to play Manchester United, but when Chelsea head to Old Trafford on Sunday Rafa Benitez could be forgiven for not subscribing to that long held cliché.
Because, privately at least, Benitez must be delighted that he travels to face his old nemesis Sir Alex Ferguson in the knowledge that what is a match that could seriously derail their bid for a top four position has become a whole lot easier than it might otherwise have been.
Of course, the stakes are still high, but if Benitez, or any other manager for that matter, could pick a time to go to Old Trafford, it would surely be with four games of the season remaining and with the title already wrapped up.
I argued a slightly different case when the Red Devils went to Arsenal last weekend, when I tipped United to win at 9/4, but there were two crucial differences at play: firstly the price, which I thought looked far too big for the champions of England, and secondly the fact that Ferguson had set his eyes on breaking the Premier League’s record points tally set by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side in 2005.
But a 1-1 draw has left United, who were not their usual selves for much of the game, unable to match that total. And with the league title won at a canter, the champions have nothing to play for whatsoever and I don’t see why anybody can back them with any real confidence, especially with Ferguson promising to give fringe players a run out over the next three weeks.
And for this reason, I have to be on the 21/10 about an away victory as opposed to the 23/20 about United or the 5/2 on the draw.
Chelsea still have it all to play for as they look to cement their place in the Champions League positions and they go to Old Trafford in full game mode. Their form is good, too: before their Europa League semi-final second-leg tie with Basel on Thursday, the Blues had won eight and drawn one of their last 12 fixtures, with their FA Cup semi-final loss the only significant defeat in that time.
Not only that, but Chelsea have dealt a psychological blow to their hosts over recent weeks. The second-half FA Cup quarter-final comeback at Old Trafford, when the Blues rallied from 2-0 down to snatch a draw, was sensational and by following that up with a comfortable 1-0 win in the replay at Stamford Bridge, Benitez has had the edge on Ferguson of late.
The Blues are scoring plenty of goals on their travels and having hit at least two goals in nine of their last 13 away games, they have the firepower to give the Red Devils problems.
Because United just haven’t been the same team since their controversial Champions League exit to Real Madrid. Since that night, Ferguson’s side have drawn and lost to Chelsea, been turned over by rivals Manchester City at home and failed to beat West Ham and Arsenal.
Even their victories against Reading, Sunderland, Stoke and Aston Villa have been in the main pretty uninspiring affairs, and even at full throttle you could argue a case for this talented Chelsea team to go to Old Trafford and win.
As it is, with United way below their level and with no motivation whatsoever, Chelsea will never get a better chance to get a vital win away at Manchester United. Get on the 21/10 they do just that.