Manchester United & Chelsea meet at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarter final
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Having already had the pleasure of playing Chelsea twice this seasons, both times in London, there are two more games against them to go, this time in Manchester. First up, it’s another domestic cup clash, as both sides are looking for a place in the semi finals of the infamous FA Cup. In many ways, despite both suffering defeats midweek, the two sides couldn’t be in more different places at the moment – more on that to come. As ever, we welcome comments and opinions from both sets of fans.
A view from the opposition
As we did earlier this season, we’ve put some questions to Chelsea fan, @JoeTweeds. Joe’s found on Twitter (as linked) and contributes to the Chelsea blog, Plains of Almería, as well as writing for a few other sites (listed in his Twitter bio).
Rafa Benitez’s crazy rant after Middlesbrough. What did you make of it? Does he have a point?
It was a very deliberate and calculated ploy from Benitez. This is a manager who (thankfully) derailed Liverpool’s title hopes with ridiculous squad management, destroyed Inter Milan and then went unemployed for years. His answer post-Inter seemed to involve turning into some sort of ultimo hipster with his own blog and conferences. Who does that?
Benitez cleverly picked a night to gain maximum exposure for his rant. This was a hastily arranged away game on a Wednesday night at the other end of the county, which we still managed to take nearly 2,000 fans to. Teams like Newcastle don’t even manage to take more than 1,500 to London regularly for a Saturday kick-off, so it seemed those who went had every right to make their opinion heard.
It also seemed full of typical scouse excuses – almost like he was getting them in early. It’s funny how he was given a very tough time only a few days later, yet the team played fantastically well in parts. It’s rather amazing what happens when you actually pick your best players, isn’t it? The fans have very little impact on how the players play and Benitez knows this. Where we end up at the end of the season will be down to his management and that is where my concerns start and end.
Frank Lampard has been excellent yet again this season, can you think of a reason why the club might be reluctant to retain his services?
The conspiracy theorists among us would probably look to his perceived involvement in the AVB debacle that was last season. Pragmatically speaking he is likely to be after a decent salary and is no longer the player he was a few seasons back. The problem is until we have a midfield that is clearly better off without Frank starting regularly then the questions from the fans will continue to come. While his goal scoring record has been phenomenal again this season, he is no longer controlling the midfield like he would of old.
Is he worth a deal? In my eyes he certainly is worth a new contract. We only need to look at you to see the positive effect that having some “elder statesman” in the squad can have. Frank has more than earned the right to remain at Chelsea for as long as he sees fit, but he is no longer the focal point of the side and the realities of that must be faced by his representatives as well as the club.
What did you make of the Mark Clattenburg incident and reaction in our last match?
I had actually forgotten about this – blame the Rafa effect. From memory it seemed to completely absolve Clattenburg of one of the most horrific refereeing performances I can actually remember at Stamford Bridge. It was verging on Øvrebø proportions at times.
The incident itself was just another in a long line of unsavoury nonsense that seems to pervade the club at every level. While it may seem incredibly blasé to dismiss such an allegation so casually things like this barely register on the scale any more. We are in such a state of disarray I think apathy has finally taken over much of the fan base.
What did you think of the Nani sending off in the week?
It was hilarious from a completely biased standpoint. I remember Evans Kung-fu kicking Drogba in the ribs a while back and somehow Drogba getting booked.
In reality it ruined what was shaping up to be a perfectly decent game of football. I cannot for the life of me see how brushing someone in the arm/ribs (barely) is deemed violent conduct. The whole “eyes on the ball” idea seems to have gone completely astray in this as well. If he’s looking at the ball, I’m not sure he knows anything about Arbeloa coming his way. I think it was a case of the reaction getting him sent off. It was rather nice to see both Spanish sides look rather ordinary against decent opposition though.
What happens thereafter is simply a classic case of Mourinho reacting perfectly to a situation. I don’t think United coped at all going down to 10 men and defensively things seemed to fall apart for that 15-20 minute spell of ascendancy for Madrid.
Why have Chelsea struggled by their own standards this season and do you think this decline was inevitable regardless of who the manager is/was?
I think it was probably inevitable regardless of the manager. Di Matteo’s “score more than them” style of football was gloriously entertaining to watch, but was horribly exposed in Europe when we could no longer rely on the old guard to drag us through games. Starting the season with one recognised striker is criminal and that should rise to a death penalty charge when that happens to be Torres.
Surrounding Mata, Oscar and Hazard with a midfield and striker worthy of their creative talents is a must for the club in the summer. A top class centre back, at least two central midfielders and one top class forward must be on the agenda. We have some very good young players out on loan currently, which we could really use right about now, so I am hoping some new additions and returning players will mean we have a very strong squad in place for next season.
Will you get a Champions League place?
I think it really is touch and go. A five point cushion on Arsenal is nice, but going into any game with anything less than our best 11 players on the pitch seems to lead us nowhere. I do think it will go down to the last few games and playing Spurs at Stamford Bridge could be crucial.
Is Fernando Torres finished or does he just need to draw a line under his Chelsea career and start over elsewhere?
He is finished. His performance in Romania was reminiscent of that Danny Dyer character in Mean Machine. Every time he touched the ball he lost it, without embellishment or exaggeration. It was like playing with 10 men. A randomly scattered assortment of training bibs and cones would cause opposition defences more trouble than Torres at the moment.
How will you line up on Sunday?
Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole; Ramires, Luiz; Hazard, Mata, Oscar; Ba.
Luiz might drop into the back and Lampard into midfield.
What’s your prediction for the match?
I think we are going to get embarrassed if our recent form continues. I hate predicting losses but realistically it’s going to be a very difficult game for us. If we somehow manage to play fairly well we may nick it (highly unlikely).
Who is the greatest player ever to put a Chelsea shirt on?
From players I have seen live it would be between Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Gianfranco Zola.
I always think the mark of a top player is his impact in big games. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone raise the bar so often and consistently against top sides. Drogba is probably the most complete centre forward the Premier League has seen and how fitting to leave the club with that penalty kick.
Lampard’s goal scoring record for a midfielder is quite extraordinary but it is so easy to forget when he was at his peak he was probably the best all-around midfielder in Europe. More assists and goals than any of the current elite level midfielders says it all.
Zola was just something else though. If football was judged on aesthetics then we would have won league titles on his ability alone. He possessed so much intelligence, skill, trickery, ability and passion for the game that it was hard to not see him as the greatest. He scored beautiful goals, made beautiful goals and was the closest thing I have seen to perfection in a Chelsea shirt. When you couple that with all the anecdotal stuff you hear about his work ethic and time he would spend with academy players it is hard to disagree.
Of those not from my era I would probably have to say Peter Osgood or Charlie Cooke. Only having seen DVDs of them it is hard to appreciate what they were like in the flesh but Osgood could do absolutely everything. Charlie Cooke still might remain the best dribbler of a ball the Bridge has seen.
Bet £20 on United to win 3-1 wins you £720
Bet £20 on Wayne Rooney to score two goals wins you £170
Bet £20 on Jonny Evans to score the last goal wins you £820
Both clubs seem to have few issues ahead of this tie. Chelsea just have Romeu absent whilst for United the game comes too soon for Jones. Fergie admitted to MUTV that Evra got a knock midweek so he could also be missing and Scholes’ status is unknown following knee problems. Fletcher, as reported, won’t play a part again this season
Potential Manchester United team to face Chelsea
The dilemma Fergie faces is that whilst keen to no doubt let those who played on Tuesday get the defeat out of their system with a win, there are plenty who weren’t involved who either need a game or were pencilled in for this one. There is of course an element of appreciating that although Chelsea are having a poor season, they’re still a good side with some exceptional players.
At some point he’ll give Lindegaard a game one suspects and maybe this could be the one after Anders played with the U21s midweek to get some match sharpness. That said, continuity with de Gea is only a good thing, particularly when he’s playing well. At the back he has to decide if either Vidic and/or Ferdinand can play twice in five days. Either way, Smalling and Evans seem very likely to get a run out. It’s possible that Smalling could play at right back with Evans partnering one of Rio or Vidic and Rafael’s rested. I’ve thrown Buttner in at left back simply because the boss said Evra had a knock midweek – gut says that even if Eva’s only 90% he’ll start but stranger things have happened.
With Rooney confirmed as a starter and Hernandez very likely to get a much deserved start, there’s three midfielders to fit into two places. With Carrick and presumably Anderson in the middle, it leaves Valencia, Young and Kagawa to take the wide berths out of the non-starters from midweek. Of course, Nani’s game was cut short so he too is fresh. Young’s most recent performance against Chelsea was very good so he could have an edge over the others but I think it’ll be Valencia and Kagawa.
Unlike United, Chelsea’s midweek defeat, at Steaua Bucharest, was forgettable. A strong, slightly rotated side, were outplayed and made to look a mess. This is a club that feels like it’s going backwards – incredible talent at it’s disposal and yet abject performances from the team lead by the most unpopular of managers. Surprisingly, they’re very much on course to beat both their points total (64) and finish (6th) from last season, not that the fans will be content with that.
For United there’ll no doubt be a desire to bounce back but there’s also been some strange ‘feeling sorry for ourselves’ emanating from the club. The players and manager have spoken about feeling shocked and downbeat, that they felt Tuesday was a huge kick in the nether-regions. There seems to be a deflated attitude, the players know they got a lot right – even those that didn’t play have spoken about it. Whether United are out for revenge or are a vulnerable, wounded beast remains to be seen but with a trip to Wembley just 90 minutes away, it’s hopefully the former.
This is of course a return of Fergie vs. Benitez and so we’ll give the final word to the Great Scot: “I’m not going to kick anyone when they’re lying down. It’s not my style.” !!