So, it finally looms. The game Chelsea fans always look for first when the fixtures are announced arrives this weekend.

Forget ancient rivalries with Spurs and Arsenal, it’s Chelsea v Manchester United that stirs the blood – and it’s this Sunday’s afternoon showdown.

The oldest Premier League manager against the youngest, with both sides desperate for the points.

United can’t abide the thought of their Manchester crown being snatched by local rivals City, while Chelsea cannot contemplate life without the cachet of Champions League football.

If past form is any guide it’s going to be a grinding, nervous battle in the early stages, and a recklessly open war towards the end.

So what will probably determine the outcome is the hour in the middle.

Taking the long view, Chelsea have always seemed to do better against United at Old Trafford, while Fergie’s men have a good record at the Bridge.

This time round, Frank Lampard hopes to be back in contention for a place in midfield. He tore a calf muscle in the draw against Norwich on January 21, but has resumed training and should at least make the bench.

Chelsea eased past Rangers last weekend with a spot kick converted by third-choice penalty taker Juan Mata. The Blues edged the Hoops on the balance of play… but there were several close scares.

The omens of the FA Cup fifth-round draw are good, with Chelsea next playing Birmingham at the Bridge. The Blues beat both QPR (away) and Birmingham (at home) on their way to winning the trophy for the first time in 1970.

Midfielder Ramires injured the ligaments in his right knee at Loftus Road, and is not expected to return to the team until Bolton’s visit to Stamford Bridge on February 25.

Alex has departed – an inevitable consequence of the signing of Gary Cahill. The Brazilian skyscraper’s decision to join Carlo Ancelotti at Paris St Germain has refunded half of Cahill’s fee.