Old Trafford, Manchester
May 8, 2011; 15:10 GMT [+5:30 IST]
All eyes would be at Old Trafford to see Chelsea travel to The Theatre of Dreams, in what has turned out to be the potential title decider. A win for Chelsea would send them to the top of the table on goal difference and make them favourites to take the title with only two more games to go. On the other hand, a victory for the United would virtually seal the title for the home side with the Red Devils requiring only a one point, that too in the next two games, against the struggling Blackburn and Blackpool. A draw would also be a good result for Sir Alex’s men, as it would keep the destiny of the title in their own hands. This game proved pivotal in deciding last season’s championship and this season it is no different.
If United fail to win the title, it would be the biggest meltdown in the history of the Premier League – even bigger than Newcastle’s slide in 1996, as the Magpies were not expected to win it in the first place. On the other hand, United have the experience and the team that has seen it all and done it before. The Red Devils have themselves to blame for the title coming down to this one game, as they squandered various opportunities in the recent weeks to race ahead of the chasing pack including the last game against Arsenal. Sir Alex is aware of the importance of the clash, as he chose a Champions League semi-final, of all the games, to feel the second string line-up. However, their home form has been impeccable to say the least, as they have dropped two points all season at Old Trafford and they would back themselves in winning the game and securing the title. With a Champions League final coming-up at Wembley in three weeks time, United would do well to wrap up the title as soon as possible in order to rest their players ahead of the big clash against FC Barcelona.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have shown great character and are on the threshold of what could be one of the biggest comeback of all times, if they manage to pull it off, as they were as many as 15 points off the pace before the reverse fixture in early March. Since then, the Blues have picked up 25 points out of the possible 27 and have shown signs of the early season form that made them look like runaway champions before their inexplicable slide in the middle of the campaign. Carlo Ancelotti has once again got the backing of the fans, who turned on him during the slide and also after their Champions League exit by the hands of Man United. The Blues have the best record of all the teams in the Premier League against United at the Theatre of Dreams and they will be full of confidence to snatch the title out of the jaws of the team from Old Trafford.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Sir Alex has a fully fit squad for this big game apart from Owen Hargreaves, who is still injured. The manager chose to field a second string line-up for the midweek game against Schalke with only Van Der Sar, Anderson and Valencia included from the players that started against Arsenal last weekend. The move came off well for him, as his team secured an easy win en-route to Wembley and it also provided a well earned rest for his star players ahead of the big game against Chelsea.
The manager is likely to go with the same set of players that did the job for him against Chelsea in the Champions League with Giggs and Carrick certain to take central midfield. The toss-up would be between Valencia and Nani, as the former started the match at Stamford Bridge while the latter was preferred for the return leg at Old Trafford. The choice between the two would decide the position of Park-Ji-Sung. If Nani plays, the Korean would be employed on the right flank to counter the attacking threat of Ashley Cole. However, he would be taking the left flank if Valencia is picked in the starting line-up. Up-front the strike partnership of Rooney and Hernandez will once again be used with Rooney playing off the Mexican.
In defence, Ferdinand and Vidic would be back in the starting line-up after being rested for the game against Schalke, as would be Patrice Evra, who only came off the bench in the second half. The right back position poses a bit of a dilemma for Sir Alex, as Fabio has done well in the recent games while John O’ Shea did well in the Champions League game against Chelsea and is also useful in countering the areal threat posed by the Blues. The problem of plenty should only be a happy headache for the fiery Scot. Van Der Sar would start in goal.
Probable Starting XI: Van Der Sar, O’ Shea, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Park, Rooney, Hernandez
Carlo Ancelotti is undecided on the final line-up as well as the formation in which he would like to take on Manchester United. The good news for him is both Drogba and Malouda are amongst goals. Latest goalscoring form has brought back Drogba in his menacing best, “I know where I am coming from. I was out for a while and I was sick and I am happy that my form is coming back.”
Bosingwa has been ruled out because of injury. Ivanovic is expected to replace him as the right sided fullback. Luiz and Terry as centre halves and Cole to complete the back four. Thanks to the goal scoring form of his strikers, Ancelotti might choose to go all out with a three men attacking lineup with Malouda and Kalou to flank solo striker Drogba upfront. Essien, Lampard and Ramires to complete the midfield lineup.
Ancelotti has maintained that Rooney is the key man in the opposition side, but ruled out man-marking on him. Instead he would prefer to keep the defense and midfield closely knit to keep opposition movements in check. With 4-3-3, Cole and Ivanovic might be called in to provide the much needed width for Chelsea. The decision looks debatable with Giggs, Nani and Valencia in good form. The midfield trio will be expected to put in a lot of effort in defenive duty. Kalou and Drogba would be swapping position every now and then to put pressure on Evra, who looked vulnerable in the last meeting between these two teams.
Probable Starting XI: Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Essien, Lampard, Ramires, Malouda, Drogba, Kalou.
Key Match Facts
United have an average of 2.04 points in Premier League in May – more than any other team.
The Red Devils last conceded a first half goal at Old Trafford against Chelsea in April 2010
Man United have scored the most goals (71) while Chelsea have conceded the least (28) in the league this season.
Chelsea have not lost a game this season when they have scored first (W16, D2)
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
Ancelotti suffered a lot of criticism for leaving out the Ivorian on the bench in the UCL game at Old Trafford, especially with Chelsea looking a lot more threatening when he came on in the second half. Since then King Didier has started in all games for the Blues and looked in tremendous form. Drogba scored the goal that tilted the title in favour of Chelsea at Old Trafford last season and he, once again, could be the man that decided the fate of the trophy.
Man United 1-1 Chelsea It would be a cagey affair with so much to play for. Chelsea could not be backed against in the form they are in, but United are also no pushovers at Old Trafford and would take a draw to take them closer to the title.