The wounds from our March 1st defeat to Chelsea in the Premier League are still raw.
Whilst we appear to have negated the effect of the defeat on field due to both Chelsea and Arsenal slipping up, off field the effects of the game still linger.
Following some questionable decisions in the game Sir Alex Ferguson expressed his dismay at seeing Martin Atkinson named at the official for the game. Whilst his wording may have been enough to see him fined £30k and banned from the touchline for 5 games, essentially he was right. That wasn’t the first time Atkinson had made mistakes in games involving us with Chelsea.
In the same fixture the prior season he failed to award us a penalty when John Terry tugged on Valencia’s shirt in the box and then awarded Chelsea a free kick that shouldn’t have been after Darren Fletcher fairly won the ball from Ashley Cole. You can only imagine how aggrieved we felt when Chelsea’s John Terry scored the winner from the free kick.
For all the talk of United getting the rub of the green when it comes to referee decisions against Chelsea, we have been hard done by. I point you in the direction of Didier Drogba’s offside goal at Old Trafford last April that helped determine the destination of the Premier League title.
Revenge was the primary context for the game when the draw was first made and rightly so especially with the last game fresh in mind. There is also the small matter of the Champions League final in Moscow in 2008 in which we won our third European Cup after an agonizingly close penalty shootout.
Looking at Monday’s press, revenge remains the theme as Chris Smalling’s return to Stamford Bridge was highlighted, having given away the penalty that sealed Chelsea’s win. The young defender has been a revelation this season and brushed it off stating:
“I still don’t think it was a penalty and that I was hard done by…I don’t feel I’ve got anything to prove.”
And he’s right. Whilst the whole revenge theme makes it appear interesting to the neutral, I think most fans of each side simply see it as a sub plot. The more important thing I, and most United fans I speak to, take from this tie is that we have a genuine chance of getting to the final/winning if we get past Chelsea.
Last time around I spoke of the disappointment of some of our previous European campaigns but I also stated that beating Marseille would be the first step on the road to Wembley. We made hard work of it, but we beat Marseille and are now faced with a pretty nice run to the final.
The draw was kind to us in that we avoid both Barcelona and Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid (I fancy us to beat them anyway!) so if we get past Chelsea then it will be either Inter Milan or, more likely, Schalke in the semi finals, both winnable games.
Looking at the game on Wednesday I’m quite optimistic. It’s not like we played terribly in March and with a few tweaks I’m pretty sure we can get something from the game. In the second half, having played Wigan on the weekend, we tired. Chelsea were afforded the luxury of the weekend off and their freshness told as they pushed on in the second half capitalising on our weary legs.
Whilst some will understate it, I think the return of players like Park Ji Sung and Anderson will be a massive boost to the team as the energy they will bring to our midfield, an area where fatigue particularly cost us last time out, will be extremely important.
Whilst it isn’t 100% confirmed they will play, the return to training of both Rio Ferdinand and Rafael yesterday again works in our favour. Our first choice back five is one of the best units in world football and having everyone together fit at the same time will play a massive part in whether we can achieve our goals trophy wise this season because, as was once said: “A good offense wins games but a good defence wins championships.”
Wayne Rooney, who scored against Chelsea in the recent meeting, looks to be back in the swing of things and his hat trick against West Ham on Saturday will provide even more confidence to the striker who many claimed was having the worst season of his career.
But just as important as our additions is the personnel Chelsea will miss, namely David Luiz.
Whilst he clearly should have seen red against us and was part of the reason Sir Alex’s complained about Atkinson’s appointment, there is no denying the undoubted quality he brings to Chelsea’s team.
He was the deciding factor last time around, solid at the back as well as scoring their equaliser but it’s not just against us that he has shone. His late goal against City that set Chelsea on their way to a 2-0 win comes immediately to mind. Chelsea appear to have done great business bringing him in as you can only see him getting better, so I don’t think I am alone in saying the fact he is cup tied improves our chances of progressing just that bit more.
Despite Luiz’s absence, Chelsea at the Bridge are still a daunting prospect. They have a solid squad and as we found out when we played them, will remain dangerous until the final whistle.
For all the talk of new signing Fernando Torres and Nicolas Anelka, whose goals saw them past FC Copenhagen in the last round, Didier Drogba gave us and Ancelotti a timely reminder on Saturday of the threat he poses so our central defensive pairing will have to be vigilant.
The tie will be a good one, we tend to have quite a gung ho approach to games against Chelsea and there is no shortage of goals in our team. The fact that the first leg will be played at Stamford Bridge will also be a boost.
United fans won’t be drawn on talks of a repeat of the treble, and Sir Alex himself has talked it down but silently if we progress past Chelsea there will be increasing optimism. We are looking good in the league and have a tasty tie with Man City in the FA Cup semi so Chelsea and the Champions League for me represents our hardest test.
Hopefully at full time on Wednesday night this silent optimism will begin to find a voice.