CHELSEA

v

MANCHESTER UNITED
Stamford Bridge, London
April 7, 2010, 1:15 AM

***

One club is in pursuit of its 19th English Top Division title and the other has been yearning for European success for years, coming excruciatingly close on many occasions. In the business end of this season, each has an opportunity to crush the dreams of the other.

Manchester United leads the Premiership table, but is yet to face Chelsea at Old Trafford. The West London club in all likelihood will not win the title, but can still play a part in steering the course of the trophy towards London. On the other hand, Man United can drill the final nail in Chelsea’s and Carlo’s respective coffins by eliminating them from Europe in the Quarter-finals.

One wants the League, the other wants the Champions League.

As things stand in Europe, Manchester United has won the Champions League twice, while Chelsea has had to contend with appearances in four semi-finals and one final.

Chelsea Football Club does not have fond memories of taking on Man United in the Champions League. The only occasion thus far has been the biggest one of them all – The Final, in Moscow. On that fateful night, the London club was merely a John Terry spot-kick away from claiming the ultimate glory in club football, however, it didn’t happen.

Recently, in the league, Chelsea has maintained a good record over the Manchester club, winning the last three of their meetings. In the last game, Manchester United visited Stamford Bridge and returned home empty-handed, although their performance merited some reward. The visitors had dominated the first half by applying tremendous amount of pressure on the Chelsea back-line.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Chelsea

The West London side has been in impressive form of late in the league, with three wins and one draw in their last four games. The victories include those against the two Manchester outfits. For Chelsea, the Champions League is a priority – this has been well document as the season has progressed. Quite a few players would be eager to prove a point against United on the European stage. John Terry, for reasons which are not discussed in Chelsea circles, and Didier Drogba, for getting himself sent off and thereby depriving Chelsea off a sure-shot penalty-taker, are two of them.

In Carlo Ancelotti, the reigning Premiership champions have a manager who knows how to defeat Sir Alex Ferguson, even in Europe. Whenever these two teams clash, the matches depend as much on the decisions of their managers as on the performance of their players. It will be no different on Wednesday night.

Chelsea does not have any fresh injury scares, with only Alex unavailable for selection, and even he is expected to return to first team action sooner rather than later. Although Benayoun played for Israel last week, he is not expected to play a major part in this game. The new Stamford Bridge sensation, David Luiz, is cup-tied in this competition.

Carlo is expected to line his team in a 4-4-2 formation. The back five will most definitely comprise of Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, and Cole. Essien and Lampard, who will be playing in his 500th game for Chelsea, will again be deployed in central midfield, while Ramires will play on the right side of midfield. On the left, Malouda has been putting in listless performances for a long time, and to make matters worse, he prefers to take preposterous shots on goal from impossible angles rather than passing the ball to his better positioned team-mates. Zhirkov, on the other hand, has looked lively on the pitch whenever he has come on and in his presence the team plays better. Plus, Cole also doesn’t hesitate to venture forward with Yuri being there to cover his back. The forward-line is expected to feature Torres and Anelka.

Any sort of weakness on the right flank for Chelsea can prove to be disastrous. With the double threat of Evra and Nani looming large, Ramires will have to run his socks off, in support of Bosingwa. In the battle between Nani-Evra and Bosingwa-Ramires, the pair that triumphs can win the war for his team. The clash between Vidic and Torres will also be crucial, and so will be the one between Rooney and the Chelsea centre-backs.

Probable Starting Line-up: Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Essien, Ramires, Zhirkov, Anelka, Torres.

football formations

Manchester United

The nature of such ties is such that they can’t be won in the first ninety minutes, although  they can surely be lost. So the smart money would be on Sir Alex Ferguson putting out a more solid or rather a slightly cautious team than the one on view in the league duel. Wayne Rooney, in midst of a media storm yet again, will be expected to lead the line as the lone man upfront. Park Ji Sung can also be expected to feature as he has been omnipresent in United’s Champions league knock out games in seasons gone by. Park would be expected to float all around the pitch, link up with Rooney and provide the extra body in midfield.

Nani and the fit again Valencia will be plying their trade on United’s left and right wings respectively, trying their best to force the Chelsea full backs – Cole and Bosingwa – to remain confined in their own half. Paul Scholes is a nailed-on certainty to start this titanic battle; the veteran Englishmen was suspended for the league game against West Ham this weekend and hence is well rested for this duel. Scholes will be partnered by fellow Englishmen Michael Carrick; the much-maligned Carrick has done a commendable job lately in shielding the United back four but would have a Herculean task in negotiating the Blues attacking threat.

On the injury front, Sir Alex will be in a conundrum regarding his center-back pairing, while Vidic will be starting for sure, Rio Ferdinand’s return could force Chris Smalling to the bench. However, whether Sir Alex would be willing to gamble on Rio’s fitness is yet to be seen. Patrice Evra will slot into his customary left-back position, however, with John O’Shea not expected to recover in time, Rafael, who has now trained with the first team, will take the right-back position.

Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs and Javier Hernandez would most likely make the bench and provide impetus if the need arises.

Probable Starting Line-up: Van Der Sar, Rafael, Vidic, Smalling, Evra, Scholes, Carrick, Nani, Valencia, Park, Rooney.

TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Fernando Torres (Chelsea): The new number 9 has had a forgettable time here in West London, after making a move from Liverpool. He has not scored for his new club as yet, and this has made him the butt of all media jokes. He is already labelled as a failure, a successor to Shevchenko rather than to Drogba. However, the Spaniard can thank David Luiz for taking the spotlight away from him, albeit for a little while. He must have benefited from the respite he has had over the last few days. Manchester United, against whom Torres has floruished in the past, now stand between Chelsea and a semi-final berth. He was signed for such huge European nights – can he shrug all his demons aside and hurt the Devils?

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United): The prodigal son is determined to reclaim the place he once had in the hearts of the Red Devils across the world. The renaissance began with The Goal against Man City to win the derby, and has continued till date. In the game against Chelsea in March, he scored a technically brilliant goal, but unluckily, it wasn’t enough to even secure a point. In United’s last game in the Premiership, against West Ham, an inspired Rooney overturned a two goal deficit by scoring a fabulous second half hat-trick. He will arrive at Stamford Bridge in scintillating form, and Man United would depend on him if they are to prevail over the home team.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

Chelsea 2-1 Man United

The occasion, coupled with the hunger and desperation for Champions League may see Chelsea win the home leg, but it is difficult to imagine Man United leaving the Bridge without an away goal.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST