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Champions League preview: Manchester United versus Chelsea

April 12, 2011

Thanks in no small way to a sublime first touch from Ryan Giggs and a cool finish from the under-pressure Wayne Rooney, Manchester United welcome Chelsea to Old Trafford for the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final with a slender one goal lead.

The tie could have been in a much different state if Spanish referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco hadn’t denied the London club”s claims for a last-minute penalty when Ramires was challenged by Patrice Evra on the edge of the Manchester United. As it is, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are in the lead of the tie, safe in the knowledge that a draw or better on the night will see them into the last four.

Manchester United have been far from brilliant this season but they continue to progress towards a potential treble. They sit seven points clear of Arsenal in the league, will do battle with Manchester City on Saturday in the FA Cup semi-final and lead Chelsea in Europe with history weighing heavily in their favour. The Old Trafford club have never been eliminated from Europe by another English team and they have never lost a European tie having taken an advantage back to Old Trafford from the first leg.

Chelsea will make history if they turnaround the quarter-final.

Obsessed with Europe

It’s pretty obvious to see that European success rests pretty highly on the agenda of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich but in the build-up to the game, Sir Alex Ferguson has heaped even more pressure on the Stamford Bridge outfit by claiming it is becoming a massive fixation for tem. Speaking at the pre-match press conference Ferguson said, “Abramovich has nailed his colours to the mast. It seems to be an obsession to win the European Cup and that’s why they bought Torres.”

Although he did add that he understood somewhat what everyone involved with Chelsea were going through. “If you are obsessed with winning the European Cup you are stretching yourself a bit, but I can understand it,” Ferguson commented. “I can understand it because I had the obsession myself for quite a while. I lost semi-finals and you say to yourself you are never going to do it. When we did it in Barcelona it was the greatest feeling of all time and it took the monkey off my back.”

Chelsea must win the match at Old Trafford to keep their Champions League ambitions alive.

The curious case of Fernando Torres

When the January transfer window slammed shut after an incredible final day earlier this season, there were quite a few pundits that were falling over themselves to bestow favourite status upon Chelsea for every competition they remained in. The British transfer record signing of Fernando Torres from Liverpool was supposed to propel them towards a haul of trophies and finally help them to the Champions League trophy.

In truth, Torres has been more of a hinderance than help and is yet to find the net for his new club. To make it worse, fellow new signing David Luiz has seamlessly become an integaral part of the Chelsea team and Torres’ replacement at Anfield, Andy Carroll kickstarted his Liverpool career with a brace against Man City just last night.

If he plays, all eyes will be on the Spanish striker to see whether or not he can break his duck. Over recent games the signs have been better. Last week, only a brilliant one-armed save from Edwin van der Sar (pictured) could deny his well-placed header and at the weekend, he looked lively when brought off the bench against Wigan.

Fernando Torres hasn’t scored for Chelsea in over 600 minutes but that would all be quickly forgiven by the fans in blue if he produced a match winning contribution against United.

Predicted line-ups

Manchester United: Edwin van der Sar, John O’Shea, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-Sung, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney

Chelsea: Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Alex, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Ramires, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres

Key Players

Nani – Manchester United

Over recent years, Manchester United have played a lot of European fixtures with a very defensive mentality. The midfield is packed and sits in front of the rock-solid backline. With a single goal lead, Sir Alex Ferguson is pretty likely to set his team up in a very similar fashion, and a lot will be expected of the attacking players that do start to relieve the pressure on their team-mates.

Nani will be expected to keep the ball for as long as possible while also providing an attacking threat. The Portuguese winger has been in fine form throughout the season but he may not enjoy as much of the ball as he would normally expect when playing at home. When he does get a chance to break, he’ll need to make the right decisions at the right times so that United can capitalise.

Ashley Cole – Chelsea

Ashley Cole was very quiet last week in the first leg. Very, very quiet. He was kept busy by Antonio Valencia, who has returned from a six-month ankle injury and found excellent form immediately. Quite a lot of Chelsea’s success this year has come from the full-backs getting involved going forward and without Cole at his fluid best last week, they looked at times a little toothless.

The re-introduction of Florent Malouda should restrict Valencia’s attacking intent somewhat and in turn allow Cole to make a big impact on the game.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 12, 2011 3:44 pm

    Good shout on the United line-up, def a 4-5-1 with Park playing att mid.

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