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Chelsea and United meet in what could prove to be this season’s title-decider. Chelsea have a tough task ahead of them, requiring nothing short of a victory at Old Trafford while United have the small matter of facing off against Barcelona at Wembley. TheHardTackle’s resident authors, Nipun Malhotra (NM, Man Utd) and Sanish Fernandez (SF, Chelsea), meet up for lunch to talk up their team’s chances of walking away with all 3 points.

NM – Honestly, did you foresee such an unlikely comeback in the league from Chelsea? Would winning the league from such a dire position reaffirm your faith in Carlo’s tactical acumen?

SF – To be honest, and I’m not a fair-weather fan, I didn’t see us clawing our way back in the league. I did expect us to put up a fight towards the end of the season, but since United seemed unlikely to have a major meltdown, I didn’t expect this. The team’s come together as a whole after the injuries and runs of poor form and has had a fortuitous run. Ancelotti succeeds with his Plan A, and it remains to be seen if he can ride this success to the title. I’m never a fan of his Plan B, if he even has one.

Next season - Roma or Roman?

NM – Chelsea Football Club, buying success since 2003. The Chelsea camp made all the right noises about success being home bred from now on. Just when we took your word seriously, your club goes out and spends 70 million odd in the January transfer window. Same ol’ Chelsea, eh?

SF – I wasn’t aware Manchester United bred their top guns at home either. We just have an owner willing to spend more, otherwise there really is not that much of a difference between our transfer policies. I’m a grounded realist who understands it is well-nigh impossible to have an entire team fashioned from the academy. Look at it this way – you have a patch of tomatoes that grow in your backyard, and if the weather gods are nice to you, you might be able to have some for dinner. But to pretend that tomato patch obviates the need for you to go to the supermarket is just nuts.

NM – What is it with Chelsea folks and weird supermarket analogies?! First Mourinho and Waitrose, and now this!

I want to bring up the topic of youth football, United and Chelsea squared off in the F.A. Youth cup semis and we knocked the stuffing out of you guys, 6-3. Is Chelsea the right place for blooding young talents? We haven’t seen anything of McEachran while Sturridge had to be loaned, for him to see the light of day.

SF – Yes, our young lads surprisingly lost 6-3. Perhaps Howard Webb Jr. was refereeing the clash. On a serious note, the young squad did well in the games leading up to the Semi-final with quite a few come-from-behind wins, including the one against Arsenal, whose youth structure needs no introduction. Moreover, Chelsea had won the same competition last year, and had reached the final before that, only to go down to a Danny Sturridge-inspired Man City. All I’m saying is that the foundation has been laid, and we are slowly getting there.

McEachran didn’t see much action in the first team after a brief spell because he was involved with the under-18s, while both Sturridge and Kakuta were sent on loan to get some regular first-team football. And, after what Danny has achieved with Bolton, it wasn’t a bad decision after all, was it?

NM – Despite being the top two clubs in England and among the top two clubs in Europe for some time now, the United-Chelsea rivalry hasn’t really taken off. Historically we aren’t rivals but surely in the current scenario this duel should have certainly gone up a notch. Are the teams too friendly or the managers just too cordial?

SF – First of all, with the hooligan years behind us, I think it’s safe to say Chelsea fans in England have generally been a classy lot. It comes with the territory, I suppose, since West London is a relatively affluent area. Since you’re not going to see any provocation from Chelsea fans, it’s understandable that none of the big clubs have any particular bone to pick with us. As for the teams, I think there’s generally not much bad blood on the field, because Chelsea have the biggest (physically speaking) squad in the entire Premier League and United are smart enough to realize the brawling odds are stacked against them. Plus it helps, neither manager speaks English.

NM – Fergie doesn’t?

SF – No.

In a Webb Of His Own

NM – Don’t leave that tongue of yours firmly lodged in your cheek for too long. Last year, the Blues came here and went home with the spoils and in the process secured the league title. However this season United will be buoyed by the magnificent win against Schalke in the Champions league unlike last season when we exited in heart breaking fashion at the hands of Bayern. How do you envisage the game to play out, a cagey chess like affair or an all out gung ho approach from your side especially as the onus is still on Chelsea to win?

SF – I expect us to go all out, as United will be only thrilled to sit back and play for a draw. The teams have recently seen their clashes decided with a margin of just a solitary goal. So Chelsea will need to score first, and preferably early, if they are to stand a chance at Old Trafford.

Ok, my turn. Are you secretly thrilled that Howard Webb’s going to be refereeing the game? It goes without saying he’s a soft spot for United, doesn’t it?

NM – Err, what? Does anyone seriously care about the referee; this media witch-hunt is rather cringe-worthy to be honest. It used to be Mike Riley a couple of seasons ago, now it’s Mr. Webb. Let’s not forget you have a certain Martin Atkinson who seems exceptionally kind to you. I honestly don’t want referees to hog the limelight on such a momentous occasion. I mean do have a look at some of the calls that have gone your way lately, you lot are hardly in a position to even complain.

SF – Do you worry that United surrendered the initiative to Chelsea by losing 0-1 at the Emirates? I ask this because Chelsea will win the league, if it wins its remaining 3 games, without having to depend on the largesse of others.

NM – I was slightly disappointed by our performance at the Emirates; however considering our wretched away form in the league it was hardly surprising. The Gunners did beat you lot too at the Emirates so it wasn’t unexpected. Nevertheless we have been superb at fortress Old Trafford, in fact our home form has carried us all season long, and I would back our team to beat anyone in Europe on our home turf. By the way even winning at Old Trafford might not be enough for Chelsea, as the goal difference would come into the equation. With us hosting Blackpool at home on the final day things can still get interesting. Saying that we need to win this weekend and get it over with.

SF – What would you rate as the higher priority? The Premier League or the Champions League? If you had to choose, which title could you live without this season?

NM – I can see you’re seething with envy, so I’ll rub this is in a little more, It’s a bit of a conundrum, but for me number 19th would surely be top priority. European success is definitely important for a club as big as United but this season after all we have been through- Rooney-gate, constant media jibes of our decline etc. Since time immemorial the red half of Merseyside have been crowing about their 18 league titles. But all said and done, I really want us to win the European cup for Sir Alex too; the man’s the biggest reason we are here. Bob Paisley won three, and it’s about time Fergie wins his third.

A-chewin' We Will Go!

SF – There’s talk of this United team being a pale shadow of its illustrious predecessors. Does that thought rankle you, even if you’re sitting pretty atop the league and heading into the final at Wembley?

NM – Surprisingly it doesn’t rankle me anymore; it’s been going on for years now. They write us off every other season, and if we are still top dog, what does that say about the other teams in the league? As for all that talk about this United side being a poor shadow, well you don’t have to be the best team in the history of the Premier league to win the league title every season. You just need to be the best amongst your contemporaries.  We might not have the best starting XI but certainly the squad is stronger than ever and as they say squads win you titles.

SF – Who is the one weak link in your team that you pray Chelsea forget, or fail, to exploit in this all-important clash?

NM – There isn’t anybody that stands out to be honest, I mean sure there are players who obviously can have bad days and may look ordinary at times but I do trust every player who puts on that red shirt. Well if you really press me, then the Right Back position could be a bit jittery at times. Also Ashley Cole is a fantastic little player; probably the best in his position and Chelsea can cause us some damage from their left flank.

SF – All right, have a good game – preferably one where the referee’s name doesn’t feature in the papers.

NM – C’mon, now what fun would that be?