Old Trafford, Manchester
April 12, 2011, 18:45 GMT
Judgement Day – A day at the end of time* following Armageddon when The Creator** will decide the fate of mankind*** according to the good and evil of their earthly lives****
time* – 2010-11 Season
The Creator** – Roman Abramovich
mankind*** – Carlo Ancelotti and his team
earthly lives**** – Chelsea Football Club careers
Nothing more need be said to illustrate the importance of the game on Tuesday night, for Chelsea, for the players and most importantly for the manager. A good man stands at the precipice of a steep fall, perhaps unfairly facing such a ruthless end. No one knows what the Chelsea owner or the men who guide him would do if the team fails, but such is the recent unforgiving and ruthless history of the West London club that one can’t help but fear.
Man United came to the Bridge for the first leg, scored a goal, and after some atrocious finishing from Chelsea, left West London with a crucial win. The tie, however, is far from over. In the 2009-10 season, embroiled in a fight for the Premiership title, Chelsea FC had traveled to Old Trafford with nothing but a win on their agenda, and registered a 2-1 season-defining victory over Sir Alex’s team. A similar result on Tuesday night will see them progress to the semi-finals. It’s an incredibly difficult ask but certainly not impossible.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Sir Alex would be very relieved to have most of his players back from injury during the business end of the season especially as United are still fighting on three fronts. The manager made full use of his squad on Saturday against Fulham as he rested eight of the players that started the first leg and yet came out with a 2-0 win. The fact that all the players came off unscathed would also be a good news for the manager. Rafael, who was injured in the first leg, is also fit for the game after missing the Fulham game while Darren Fletcher is the only first team player missing for the home team.
Despite the first leg win, Sir Alex would be taking no chances and hence is expected to field the strongest team available. Rio Ferdinand and Edwin Van Der Sar are certain to return to the starting line-up after being rested for the Fulham game. Rafael should also get the nod ahead of John O’ Shea as the Irishman returned from injury after a long lay-off and is unlikely to be fielded for the 2nd consecutive game in four days. The ever present Evra will keep his place at left back.
In the midfield, the manager is likely to go with the same set of players that did the job for him at the Bridge. Valencia, who was substituted early against Fulham, is likely to keep his place on the right flank ahead of Nani, as should Park-Ji-Sung on the left flank whose industrious ability was fully used in the first leg. Carrick and Giggs are also likely to start in central midfield as they proved to be superior to their Chelsea counterparts who had an off day. The manager might also think of having Paul Scholes back after the midfielder had a good game at the weekend but Ferguson is likely to go with a proven combination.
Rooney and Hernandez would be the two front men with the latter leading the line and Rooney dropping off from time to time to make a five man midfield for United.
Probable Starting Line-up: (4-4-2) Van Der Sar, Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Giggs, Carrick, Valencia, Park, Rooney, Hernandez.
He may have a lot of problems at hand, but injuries is not one of them. Carlo Ancelotti would welcome back fit-again Alex into the starting line-up, to partner Captain John Terry in the heart of the defence, with Ivanovic moving to the right-back position. The fact the Serb will play on the right, rather than Bosingwa, who was solely responsible for the goal conceded at the Bridge, would be comforting for fans and the manager alike. Ashley Cole would continue at left-back.
The return of Yossi Benayoun also gives options to Carlo in the midfield. The Israeli, in his brief spell against Wigan, showed everyone what he is capable of. On more than one occasion, he created opportunities for Torres, but the forward couldn’t finish as he should have.
An in-form Wayne Rooney brought the shortcomings of the 4-4-2 to the fore, as the street-smart striker dropped deep to exploit the space behind Lampard and Essien. Sir Alex lines his troops to exploit his opposition’s weaknesses, and Carlo should surprise him at Old Trafford. This is not a time to work on building a working partnership between Torres and Drogba, but a time to win at any cost. Ferguson would expect a 4-4-2 shape, even more so because Chelsea have the onus of attacking upon them, and this is a time for Carlo to deploy the old-school Chelsea system of 4-3-3 from the start – Drobga to be flanked by Kalou and Anelka on either side, while Mikel patrolling the space behind Lampard and Ramires/Essien. This formation has it’s flaws, but also has an element of surprise attached with it.
Contrary to popular wisdom, a lot will depend on how well Chelsea can defend. If the away team does not concede in the opening 60 minutes, the pressure and restlessness would increase in the United dugout, as overturning a single goal deficit is not beyond even the weakest of teams. The plan, ergo, should be to defend resolutely, even if it requires playing with 10-men behind the ball, and to hit Man United on the counter. In the latter stages of the game, a double substitution, bringing on Torres and Benayoun together can be effective.
The target should be to score first, howsoever late it may be, to take the tie into extra-time rather than attacking from the onset and in the process concede first. By maintaining such discipline, the tie will remain in the balance till the dying moments and in such a scenario, whichever teams wants it more desperately will be more likely to progress.
Probable Starting Line-up: (4-3-3) Cech, Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, Cole, Mikel, Lampard, Ramires, Anelka, Kalou, Drogba.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Wayne Rooney (Man United): Manchester United need just a draw, and the home team would look to their primary weapon for killing off the Chelsea resistance before it gains momentum. Wayne Rooney has scored in the previous two meetings between the English sides and would again look to exploit the space between the Chelsea defense and midfield by dropping deep. Whether Ancelotti nullifies this by playing a defensive midfielder in front of the back-four remains to be seen. However, if the Italian doesn’t, Rooney will enjoy acres of space and will sooner rather than later, hit the Blues.
John Terry (Chelsea): For Chelsea to prevail over United at Old Trafford, the away team has to showcase tremendous discipline, defend resolutely as a unit, and continue to persevere. John Terry’s motivational, organizational, and defensive skills will be severely tested on Tuesday night. In all likelihood, Alex would partner Terry in central defense, and this being the Brazilian’s first competitive game in months, the captain would have to be extra vigilant to counter the collective threat posed by the United forward-line.
Man United 2-2 Chelsea
Man United have been in such positions before, and they know how to get the desired result. Chelsea have been in similar situations in Europe before, but have failed to get the desired results, although seldom because of their own shortcomings. Carlo Ancelotti faces his biggest night ever, as manager of the Blues.