PREVIEW vs Chelsea: Win and take another step towards greatness
Nicolas Anelka has easily been Chelsea’s stand-out performer in Europe this season, with seven goals to his name; Didier Drogba has obviously not looked the same player ever since that bout of malaria and will never be content with playing second fiddle to the Spainard, especially as Ancelotti has yet to coax the best out of his 50 million pound striker. It is a striking conundrum that has been highlighted many times ever since Torres made the move to London, and it could not have come at a worse time for the Blues and a better time for United.
Vidic and Ferdinand, bedrock of United’s defence and one of the best centre-back pairings left in the competition, will still have to be on their toes but can expect a similar challenge they faced at the Bridge if Ancelotti continues to stick with his 4-4-2 formation and play two up-front. Judging from how they generally struggled against Wigan, the Italian is likely to revert back to his diamond formation for the upcoming game.
At this stage of the competition, United have one of the most balanced teams in Europe and are more than a match for anyone on their day. They also have the best defence amongst the sides left in the competition, having conceded a mere two goals away in Europe this season. They nearly set a group stage record by not conceding a single goal – a testament to the sturdiness of the back line that at times has been dictated by injuries and inconsistent team selection.
Manchester United are not a side without problems. Their season however, has certainly not been as mediocre as some critics have made it out to be. The Red Devils were unbeaten in the league going into 2011 before losing to Wolves at Molineux, have consolidated their position atop of the league and look on course for league title number 19th. They are in the FA Cup semi finals and hold the advantage against Chelsea.
What United have lacked this season in quality match-winners, they have made up for with an abundance of experience and spirit resonating throughout the team. The argument provided by naysayers is that the class of 2010/2011 are not exciting enough and miss a top creative midfielder like Snejider of Inter Milan to bridge the gap between their rivals.
The current United set-up looks a good blend of youth and experience – Rafael and Fabio instantly come to mind, as the Brazilian twins have continually pushed for a first team spot and look to be the long-term residents for the full-back spots, while Smalling who was playing non-league football two years ago has made startling progress and been more than adept cover for the missing Rio Ferdinand. Van Der Sar looks as good as any of the top goalkeepers linked with in the press, and when Giggs and Scholes retire one day, they are undoubtedly the ones who will need the most replacing in the team such is their importance. Regardless, their evergreen presence has been an invaluable factor in United’s hunt for trophies this season, as Giggs showed again last week after proving to be the difference between the two sides at Stamford Bridge.
The job is far from done, as Ferdinand acknowledged after the first leg, the tie is still ‘very much in the balance’ and United fans will be wary of the familiar feeling of disappointment against the Blues.
It has always been the club’s ethos, constantly engrained onto any team Sir Alex selects; they possess the know-how of getting the job done and contrary to most observations this season, can win spectacularly as well as grind out results – something we can be attributed our position in the league to.
No opposition should be underestimated at this juncture of the competition, and it can be dangerous to pre-empt that Manchester United will cruise into Wembley having avoided the Spanish big two in the draw. What is clear is that United will give themselves the best possible chance of repeating the feat not seen since the 1998/1999 season in red colours, if they start by beating Chelsea at Old Trafford and eliminate their effervescent arch-rivals once and for all.