Old Trafford, Manchester
May 5th, 2013; 16:00 GMT
United are marching towards lifting their 20th league title, but their form has been a bit shaky in recent times. They have won only two of their last six matches in all competitions. They did win convincingly against Aston Villa in their last home game, but that was their second victory in the last five matches at Old Trafford. They now have two back-to-back home matches and United would like to ensure that they finish the season in style, although they won’t be able to overtake the record points tally following their 1-1 draw at the Emirates.
Chelsea on the other hand, have a lot at stake in this match as the race for the top four spots in the league reaches its penultimate stage. They are facing a heavy fixture list due to their involvement in the Europa League as well, but the Blues have been in good form of late. They are coming into this game on the back of a 3-1 victory against Basel, which secured their place in the final of the Europa League. But now they must concentrate on the securing their Champions League qualification spot, as both Arsenal and Tottenham have won their matches in this round.
Rafa Benitez’s side are currently in the fourth place in the league table – two points behind Arsenal and level on points with Tottenham. But they do have game in hand: Arsenal have played two more matches, while Tottenham have played one more. So on paper, Chelsea have an advantage over their rivals in this race for Champions League qualification.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Sir Alex doesn’t have any new injury concerns to deal with at the moment. Darren Fletcher, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck remain at the sidelines. But Vidic, who missed out the match against Arsenal, is fit and available for this game, although the Serbian is only expected to make it to the bench. There are also doubts about the fitness of Scholes, but the former England international could also make it to the bench in this game.
Sir Alex is unlikely to tinker too much with the team that started against Arsenal. Evans and Ferdinand will again form the central defensive pairing, while Jones is expected to start alongside Carrick in the midfield, although one shouldn’t be surprised to see Ryan Giggs starting ahead of Jones in this match. The only change that is almost assured is the inclusion of Kagawa in the side, in place of Nani or Valencia. Based on the performance against Arsenal, Valencia should ideally be the one who will be replaced by the former Dortmund midfielder.
Jones’ role in the side has been the topic of discussion in most internet forums in the past few weeks. While many believe that the Englishman should be played as a defender, he does brings in a lot of energy and drive in the midfield alongside Carrick. But it was once a again a reminder that United do need to sign at least one central midfielder to partner Carrick, with both Giggs and Scholes nearing the fag end of their careers, while there are concerns about the fitness of Fletcher. Anderson is also expected to leave Old Trafford in the summer, which leaves Cleverly as the only other option. It will be another big test for Jones in this match as he would be up against a strong Chelsea midfield and attack.
With Valencia’s performance coming under increased criticism, Nani has another chance to solidify his future at the club. The Portuguese international’s performance has improved over the season.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): De Gea (GK); Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Carrick, Jones; Nani, Kagawa, Rooney; Van Persie.
Chelsea do not have any major injury concerns at the moment. Oriol Romeu and Marko Marin are the only players who would make that list. But fatigue is the only concern for Rafa Benitez, with the team having to play its fourth match in the space of 11 days. Hence a lot of changes are expected to the starting line-up that was fielded against Basel.
Cahill could be rested, having started against Swansea and Basel, which means John Terry should be back in the side for this all-important clash. The only doubt that remains is whether Luiz will be played in the defence or the midfield. But looking at the Brazilian’s recent performance from the midfield, it seems like Ivanovic will partner Terry in the defence. Mikel, who didn’t feature against Swansea or Basel, could be back in the starting line-up. He and Luiz will form the pivot in front of the defence.
Mata and Oscar, who were rested against Basel, will replace Moses and Ramires in the starting line-up, with Torres up front. The Spaniard is slowly regaining his confidence and the mask on his face seemed to have worked wonders for him. Ashley Cole should also return to the side and will replace Ryan Bertrand, who started in their last match.
Chelsea have scored two or more goals in their last five matches and Rafa’s side is building up a bit of momentum in the closing stages of the season. The trio of Oscar, Hazard and Mata, should be capable of troubling the United backline, but their main concern will be to stop the duo of Robin van Persie and Rooney. Mikel will play a key role in this match as he will have the job of stopping Rooney from exploiting the space in between the defence and the midfield.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Cech (GK); Azpilicueta, Terry, Ivanovic, Cole; Mikel, Luiz; Mata, Oscar, Hazard; Torres
- Manchester United have won 13 of their last 14 home matches in the Premier League.
- Manchester United are undefeated in 10 of their last 11 home matches against Chelsea in all competitions.
- Chelsea have conceded at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 away matches in the Premier League.
- United have hit the woodwork more often than any other team in the Premier League this season (22 times), while Chelsea have hit it the fewest amount of times (5).
Player to Watch Out For
Juan Mata (Chelsea)
The Spaniard has perhaps been Chelsea’s most influential player this season. What is even more encouraging is the fact that he has settled down so well in his debut season itself. The former Valencia man will once again be the key for Chelsea to unlock the United defence, and Rafa Benitez will surely be hoping for a moment of magic from his compatriot as it can go a long way in securing Chelsea’s top four credentials.
Manchester United 1 – 1 Chelsea
United at home are always a tough proposition, irrespective of the fact that they have already won the league and have little to play for. Sir Alex will make sure that his team is up for it and end the season in style. But Chelsea have had the upper hand in this fixture in recent times and are sure to snatch a point in this match. It will be an exciting game, with loads of chances, but one which should ultimately end in a draw.