AUTHOR: – Doron
It’s London for United as the Reds take on Chelsea in the quarter final first leg of the Champions League. For United it’s a chance to right recent wrongs and put an end to a truly awful record at Stamford Bridge; for Chelsea, it’s a chance to make sure key men refrain from raising their hands inappropriately and don’t slip at any time (and maybe seek revenge for Moscow!).
This is the 17th time United have reached the quarter final stage in the Champions League but only the second time they’ll be facing Chelsea in this competition. This all-English affair is a repeat of the epic and infamous final in 2007/08 that saw United win the competition on penalties. The sides recently met in a highly controversial league game with United being defeated despite playing well. Sir Alex Ferguson has made no secret of the fact he’s after goals in this tie, it should be a great encounter.
In the league, Chelsea sit a disappointing 4th and for months now have rarely looked like the powerful championship winning side of last year. However Chelsea’s home form has been very solid and along with United they’ve conceded the fewest number of goals at home in the league (9). In the Champions League Chelsea have been impressive at home too – conceding just 2 in their four home games and scoring 8. They finished top of their group which contained United’s last CL opponents – Marseille. To get to this stage, Chelsea defeated Copenhagen 2-0 on aggregate.
In Europe this season, as mentioned previously, Chelsea qualified 1st in their group, winning 5 of their games and losing 1. Chelsea don’t quite have the luxury of a fully fit or available squad but are close to it. Benayoun and Alex are both in training but neither deemed fit enough to play. David Luiz who was so excellent against United in the league is cup-tied and unavailable. The big decision for Chelsea to make is seemingly who to start up front.
Expect Chelsea to line up in their now usual formation of 4-4-2. Whilst Ramires on the right doesn’t always provide natural width and likes to drift inside, the formation somewhat suits the current players better than a variation of 4-5-1. With Luiz cup-tied, Ivanovic should come in at centre back with Bosingwa at right back. It will be interesting to see if Torres is recalled to the side after being dropped at Stoke last weekend.
United must be wary of a Chelsea side in decent form – they’re unbeaten in 2 months and have only conceded 5 goals in their last 9 games. Being the only trophy that eludes Chelsea under Abramovich’s rule this is a competition that seemingly gets more attention than others. It’s also a competition that Chelsea haven’t really had much luck in – strange substitutions in Monaco (’04), the dubious goal awarded to Liverpool (’05), penalties in consecutive years (’07 and ’08), awful refereeing vs Barcelona (’09) and being beaten by their ‘Special one’ last year. Like United feel they deserve some luck at The Bridge – Chelsea may feel they deserve some luck in Europe.
Enough on Chelsea…onto United and my predicted line up:
United played a 4-4-2 at Stamford Bridge just over a month ago and did well matching Chelsea. However, I think despite saying goals are wanted, Fergie will revert to a 4-5-1 for this game. The injury problems are easing for United and it means the ‘missing men’ now only includes: Lindegaard, Brown (back in training), O’Shea (back in training), Fletcher (back on Friday) and Hargreaves.
Edwin should play in goal after missing the win at West Ham on Saturday with the most minor of groin injuries. The return of Rafael, Evans and Ferdinand means there are options at the back for United. I’d expect Rafael to oust brother Fabio from his right back berth and otherwise the defence should be largely unchanged. Rio is fit but has only done a week of training so it would be a surprise if he’s thrust back in for such a big game. The Smalling-Vidic pairing has generally been excellent so it would be odd to tamper with that.
I’ve been cautious and chosen a five man midfield that combines energy, accuracy and pace. Valencia’s return has been nothing short of exceptional and with options out wide returning it was a bonus that Nani could get a rest at the weekend – he should be fresh for tomorrow. Also fresh will be Paul Scholes who’s not played in 3 weeks due to suspension; keeping the ball should be key so to have him back will be a bonus. Carrick was excellent at West Ham and even showed signs of rebirth as he ventured forward and had some shots. He, like Scholes will be vital to controlling the midfield. Park got an hour at the weekend and I fully expect him to start behind Rooney, working hard to be alongside him in attack but join Carrick and Scholes in defence. Anderson is fit but Ferguson hinted he won’t start him yet in such a big game.
I’ve selected Rooney to play the lone striker’s role. Given he’s likely to be suspended for Saturday there is no need to rest him. Chicharito and Berbatov both showed against West Ham they can be effective off the bench if need be. Michael Owen too has bags of experience if that’s required.
United have come through a bad spell losing to Chelsea and Liverpool to put together four straight wins now. The lead over Arsenal is now 7 points and despite the away form not being up to scratch, it’s still the second best in the league. Away from home in the Champions League United have been efficient. They’re still yet to concede a goal on their travels in this competition but have only managed 5 goals in their four games. United have only conceded 2 goals in the competition in total so far, giving them the best defence in the competition.
This season is United’s 22 in Europe’s top competition. 17 of those times United have got to this quarter final stage and incredibly on 11 occasions United have made it to at least the semi-final stage. Chicharito is United’s leading scorer in Europe this season with 3 goals – two of which were scored in the last European game as United overcame Marseille 2-1 on aggregate.
I think the result against West Ham will have galvanised spirits at the club. United are certainly due some luck at Stamford Bridge – a ground they’ve not won at for 9 years. David Luiz could be a big loss for the Blues and United will certainly look to get at Bosingwa. Fresh from his hat-trick Rooney should also be buzzing and therefore I will nervously predict a 2-1 away win.
You can share with us your thoughts ahead of the match and your favourite Champions League quarter final memories on the forum. We’ve also spoken to a Chelsea fan ahead of this tie and you can read his thoughts here.
It would be rude of me not to share these videos with you too:
AUTHOR: – Doron