Old Trafford, Manchester
March 10, 2013; 16:00 GMT
Chelsea travels to Old Trafford to face Manchester United in the FA Cup sixth round tie. Both the teams head into this match on back of European defeats. While Chelsea still have 2nd leg to right the wrongs against Steaua Bucharest, Manchester United have been knocked out the Champions League by Real Madrid.
This clash will see Sir Alex and Rafa Benitez resume their fearsome rivalry at Old Trafford after three years. Interestingly, the last time these two sides met was in the League cup fixture back in October when Chelsea knocked out United in a thrilling contest that finished a 5-4 score line in favour of the Blues.
But since them both the clubs have travelled in opposite direction in terms of performance on the field. Chelsea were knocked out of the League cup at the hands of eventual winner Swansea, they were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages, Roberto Di Matteo was sacked, Rafa Benitez was appointed as the manager (much to the bemusement of the fans) and currently they are fourth in the league table and a massive 19 points behind the league leaders.
Things haven’t gone well off the field as well for the London club in recent times. Rafa Benitez’s, now infamous, press conference after their victory over Middlesbrough in the last round, has done little in improving the gradually deteriorating atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. But a victory of Manchester United in this fixture will ease the pressure on Benitez, at least for the time being.
United on the other hand are galloping home to their 20th League title and although the hopes of a treble has been crushed, they could yet complete a famous double this season. Sir Alex would ensure that his team bounce back from the demoralising defeat against Real Madrid, where a controversial refereeing decision proved to be the turning point in the match. But if any manager can motivate his team after such a loss, that’s Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sir Alex is expected to make numerous changes to the starting line-up he fielded against Real Madrid in the Champions League. Jones and Scholes are still out with their ankle and knee injuries respectably; the duo is expected to return in two weeks’ time.
Vidic and Ferdinand, who started against Real Madrid, will make way for Evans and Smalling in this fixture in the center of the defence. Carrick and Cleverly, who were excellent in United’s last game, will start once again in front of the defence, but Nani and Giggs will drop to the bench. Kagawa, who scored a wonderful hattrick in his last match, will start once again along with Valencia on the wings.
Wayne Rooney, whose exclusion from the starting line-up against Madrid caused a huge uproar about his future at Old Trafford, will start in this match in place of Welbeck, while van Persie will lead the line once again, although Sir Alex might also start with Chicarito upfront, given his wonderful record against Chelsea.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Carrick, Cleverly; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa; van Persie
Rafa Benitez doesn’t have too many injury worries to deal with at the moment. In fact Romeu is the only player to miss out due to a knee injury.
With Chelsea playing two matches in space of four days, a lot of changes are expected to the starting line-up that featured in the 1-0 away defeat to Steaua Bucharest. Cahill, who was rested in the last game, will start in this match in place of John Terry. Asley Cole will return to the starting line-up in place of Bertrand, while Ivanovic will make way for Azpilicueta at right back.
Ramires, who didn’t travel with the squad to Romania, will start alongside Mikel in front of the defence as Lampard drops to the bench. Moses and Mata are also expected to return to the starting line-up in place of Oscar and Benayoun.
Demba Ba, who was ineligible to play in the Europa League for Chelsea, will return to the starting line-up in place of Fernando Torres, who misfired once again in his last match.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz, Cole; Mikel, Ramires; Moses, Mata, Hazard; Ba
Chelsea’s biggest threat will come down the left hand side of the pitch with Hazard and Cole bombing forward and although Rafael has had a fantastic season so far, he can at times be too adventurous and might leave space in behind for United to exploit. Valencia will have a key role to pin back Ashley Cole.
It is unlikely that Sir Alex will employ the same tactics as he did against Real Madrid and United will come out with more attacking intent on their side. One of the things that Chelsea will have to deal with is the movement of van Persie and Rooney. These two strikers usually takes turn to drop and build-up play. The center backs can’t follow them and hence the onus will be upon Ramires and Mikel to deny them the space in between the defence and midfield.
Defensively, the biggest problem for Chelsea is the fact that the likes of Hazard and Mata are not known for tracking back or pressing from the front. This will allow Carrick a lot of time and space on the ball and if he is allowed to dictate the pace of the game from the back, the Blues will have a mountain to climb. Hence Mata in particular, will have to take up the responsibility of harassing Carrick whenever the Englishman gets on the ball – the kind of job Welbeck did on Alonso against Real Madrid.
Ba will pose different questions to the United back four, as he is more direct and certainly in better form than Fernando Torres. The former Newcastle United striker’s hold-up play upfront will also be critical for Chelsea to build up attack.
- This is the 11th FA Cup meeting between the sides, with United having won eight – Chelsea won the last encounter in the 2007 final
- Javier Hernández has scored in five of his past six games against Chelsea
- Juan Mata has scored five and assisted seven goals in 10 FA Cup appearances
- This is Manchester United’s 34th FA Cup quarter-final; only Arsenal have made this round more often, 36
- The last six meetings between these two in all competitions have featured 30 goals
Stats Courtesy: Guardian
Players to Watch Out For
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
The England international will have point to prove. His absence from the starting line-up caused a stir among fans and media. Rumours about his exit from Old Trafford next season grabbed a place in nearly every news-daily in England. Sir Alex has off-course dismissed all these claims and pointed out that Rooney’s exclusion was nothing more than a tactical move. The former Everton man is all set to start against Chelsea and what better way to silence your doubters than putting up a swash buckling performance against Chelsea in a Cup match. For Chelsea this match might have come at the wrong time.
Manchester United 2 – 1 Chelsea
Both the teams will look to recover from their defeats in European matches. United will be looking to complete a double this season, while for Chelsea the FA cup represents their best hope of winning a silverware this season. Sir Alex’s side start as the favorites in this tie, specially with the home advantage, but as Bradford and Swansea proved this season – form and quality on paper becomes irrelevant in knockout tournaments.
Both the teams will come out with attacking intent and expect this to be a very open match. And continuing with our build-up around Wayne Rooney – you can’t really rule out a 90th minute winner by the Englishman, can you?
Blast from the Past