Chelsea v. Manchester United: Holy Wars

BY: EastCoastBias

It’s crunch time in the UEFA Champions League, as the quarterfinal matchups begin this week. Yesterday, nine-time European cup winners Real Madrid defeated Tottenham 4-0, and although the second leg is still to come, this tie looks all but wrapped up. In a more surprising result, defending champion Inter Milan were soundly defeated at home by Schalke. Inter will need to pull out a miracle in the second leg in order to move onto the semifinals, as Schalke already have 5 away goals in their backpocket.

Today, favorite Barcelona faceoff against Ukranian side Shakhtar Donetsk. But, in what surely is the headline matchup of the quarterfinals, English powerhouses Chelsea and Manchester United will clash at Stamford Bridge in London. These two sides have dominated English soccer over the past seven years, and they faced off against each other in the final of the 2008 Champions League, with the Red Devils beating the Blues 6-5 in penalties.

Much has changed for Manchester United since that rainy night in Moscow, as star players Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez have moved onto “greener” pastures. On the Chelsea front, although there have been numerous coaching changes and signings brought in since May 2008, the spine of the team still remains the same with Petr Cech, John Terry, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba.

It is important to note that the first leg of this matchup is at Stamford Bridge, where Manchester United has not won since 2003. This, along with the fact that Chelsea defeated Manchester United in a thrilling come from behind victory in early March, should give the Blues a slight mental edge in tonight’s matchup. Here, I am going to outline some of the key battles that could decide this tie:

Nemanja Vidic v. Fernando Torres:

Although Fernando Torres has not scored a goal since his January arrival to Chelsea, he has a history of making Vidic, considered one of the finest defenders in the world, look like a schoolboy. Torres scored against the Red Devils in both games last year, while he was with Liverpool. Additionally, Torres’ movement on the pitch has greatly improved over the past few games, and if he can create space, he may be able to net his first goal in Chelsea blue. Torres is one of the finest strikers in the world at making diagonal runs, and these runs command attention from multiple defenders, leaving space in the middle of the park. If Torres is up for it and makes these runs, it could open up space for Frank Lampard, who is clinical from the edge of the box.

Chelsea midfield v. Manchester United midfield:

Ultimately, this matchup is going to be decided in the midfield, as whoever controls possession and the pace of play will be the likely winner. After long layoff from injury, Frank Lampard is starting to regain his old, impeccable form. His precise movement and ability to defend make the Chelsea engine run. As a whole, the Chelsea midfield of Lampard, Essien, and Ramires has improved drastically since midseason. Ramires is finally starting to understand the nuances of the EPL, and his speed and technique are making him a challenge for opposing defenses on the right side of the pitch. Darren Fletcher, a great all-around talent, will surely have the duty of marking Lampard and Ramires, along with distributing the ball. If Ramires is fully energized and begins to win balls, it may be a long night for Fletcher, leaving him too tired to make clean passes to the United attack force. Moreover, Frank Lampard may be there to pick up the pieces and distribute the ball to Torres and co. It will be interesting to see how Sir Alex decides to line-up in the midfield. If he chooses to pack the center of the pitch, it may be difficult for the Chelsea midfield to breakthrough Fletcher, Carrick, and co. However, Ramires’ speed will be the key and if he makes runs deep into the pitch, then Essien and Lampard will have the space to make charges into the box, which is what they are best at.

Wayne Rooney v. John Terry:

Rooney scored a superb goal against Chelsea in early March. However, other than that he has not had much success against the Blues. His speed and vision will force Terry to keep an eye on him at all times, especially since new star David Luiz is not there to help him mark Rooney. Branislav Ivanovic is not a bad second choice either, and together, they will need to fill in any gaps so that Rooney does not get through to goal. Rooney will be up for this game, especially on the heels of his hatrick this past weekend. Terry will be extra-focused, as well, looking to avenge his penalty miss in Moscow. I think Terry and Ivanovic will do a good job of neutralizing Rooney; however, they need to be mindful of United’s other skilled strikers: Berbatov and Hernandez. It will be interesting to see what role SAF will ask Rooney to play tonight, attacker or facilitator, and accordingly, Terry and co. will have to adapt.


This quarterfinal is going to be a tight affair, as both teams know each other very well. I expect Chelsea to come away with a 1-0 victory, leaving it all to play for in the second leg at Old Trafford. Man. U will be cautious and try to attack Chelsea on the counter, especially with their speedy wingers. As a result, Chelsea will have a tough time breaking them down through the center of the park. Expect Chelsea to knick a goal off either a set piece or a Torres run, that leaves space for Lampard and Drogba to pounce. With that being said: GO BLUES!

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11 Responses to Chelsea v. Manchester United: Holy Wars

  1. Jay-Hoosier says:

    Well, you had to know a English football article was going to draw my attention and my wrath. Chelsea and Manchester United represent the last 6 English Premier League Champions. United find themselves currently in control of the EPL with a 7 point lead over Arsenal and 11 points clear of Chelsea (although both Arsenal and Chelsea have a game in hand). Chelsea, on the other hand, are struggling to qualify for next season’s Champions’ League and a few more slip-ups, like their weekend draw with Stoke, could leave them relegated to the Europa League.

    Now, where to start with what was written above? Torres hardly strikes fear in the hearts of anyone right now. While he did score against United last season, he looked lost in his first appearance against United in a blue shirt. His form has been awful lately and Ancelotti might be smart to leave him on the bench for this one. Returning to a pairing of Anelka and Drogba might give Chelsea some much needed familiarity up front.

    Moving to the midfield, I’m not sure why Fletcher was mentioned. He hasn’t played in almost a month and almost certainly won’t be fit for this match. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Scholes and Carrick in United’s central midfield roles to give United experience and Scholes’ creativity. Historically, Sir Alex had preferred to go with a lone striker in these types of games so it is possible that Rooney will be up top on his own (at least to start the match). I’m not a huge fan of the 4-5-1 but it has proven to be successful. Valencia recent return to fitness and form (after a broken ankle) gives United another great option on the wing to go with Giggs and Nani. Valencia’s chemistry with Rooney can’t be understated.

    David Luiz (who everyone agrees should have been sent off multiple times the last time these teams met) is cup-tied so Chelsea’s central defense will be weakened. Ivanovic, who is a more natural full-back, might be forced to play center-back, which might cause some problems for the Blues. That will leave either Bosingwa or Ferreira to man the right-back role. Neither inspire much confidence. With United, there is hope that Rio Ferdinand will be fit for the first time in weeks and his presence would give United a needed boost at the back. United’s right-back choice will be interesting because O’Shea and Rafael provide two different types of players. Rafael is better at getting forward and O’Shea is bigger and stronger. This choice will say a lot about United’s attacking intentions.

    For me, this tie is pretty simple. Chelsea have consistently folded in the biggest European matches. United have not. If Chelsea want to move on, they must show Championship determination, something they have lacked all season.

    1st leg: 1-1 draw
    2nd leg: 2-0 United win (3-1 aggregate)

  2. EastCoastBias says:

    While Torres has not scored a goal this season for the Blues, his movement on the pitch has improved. And he has had Vidic’s number during his time at Liverpool.

    Although Ivanovic does play full back regularly, he was groomed to be a central back, so him playing is not going to be a dropoff. Bosingwa on the right will give the Blues speed on the right, and that should help him contain Nani, along with some help from Ramires.

    Valencia will not give Ashley Cole problems. He is not at 100% match fitness, and Cole rarely gets beaten defensively. Even Ronaldo had a tough time against Cole.

    Rio being back- boo freaking hoo. He hasn’t played since God knows when, and as the World Cup showed, he’s lost a big step. I think it will have an adverse effect on United, as the speed of the game might be too much for him.

    Carrick is a joke. Scholes does still have the creative juices, but he can be easily marked out. One player who does scare me is Anderson, since he’s like a bull. But who knows if SAF will play him. Scholes will probably be subbed for Giggs, who could have a good through ball.

    Playing Rooney up front by himself won’t be a good strat. Rooney likes to go up the field and get the ball, so there won’t be anyone in the box. Playing him alongside Hernandez or Berbatov will give United more options in the box and more space for Rooney.

    Finally, please do not say Man United has not choked in European matches. How about the quarters last year against Bayern? Or that final against Barca. In fact, that is the only blemish on SAF’s record not winning more in the UCL.

    Chelsea got beaten by a better Inter team last year. And were screwed out of the finals in 2009 thanks to a Norwegian ref. JT did choke in the pks. There was also the phantom goal in 05 against Liverpool. So please do preface your statements a bit better next time. Good post though- liked the input.

  3. Jay-Hoosier says:

    I guess it makes it easier to criticize someone when you put words into their mouth. I don’t using the word “choke” in my comment but since you brought it up, let’s go with that. Hard to say that United “choked” last year when Robben hit an incredible volley from outside the box to beat them. Barca was the best team in ’09 so it’s hard to say United “choked” in that one either. Regardless, United have won the Champions League three times (’68, ’99, ’08). How many times has Chelsea won it? You seems to have a look of excuses as to why Chelsea haven’t won it, but, that doesn’t get you much. Until Chelsea actually wins the Cup, there isn’t a lot of proof that they have what it takes.

    Saying Scholes can “easily be marked out” destroys a lot of your credibility as a soccer analyst. He has one of the best, if not the best, long balls in the game. Even if Rio is fit, Smalling might get the start. He has been really good for United this year although is inexperience is a bit worrying.

    I’m glad Torres is “moving” better. I’m sure that’s what Chelsea was hoping for when they paid 50 million quid for him. Until he finds the net, he doesn’t scare anyone.

    All in all, your response was pretty much what I expected from a Chelsea supporter. You see the world through your blue-colored glasses, and that is fine. If you’ve objectively watched Chelsea at all this year, you likely won’t be so confident. They’ve been far from impressive. Or, if you knew much about United’s squad, you might be able to prove some actual insight instead of making rash generalizations. Alas, in a week, United will be on to the semi-finals and you will have another excuse. It’s been fun.

  4. EastCoastBias says:

    Granted Chelsea’s performance in the EPL hasn’t lived up to expectations. In Europe, this season they have played well, granted that they have had a good schedule. But their form since early March has considerably improved.

    Scholes is one of the best passers. Xavi says that Scholes is the best player he has played against. But his movement is limited. Also his long balls won’t be that effective if Rooney is playing upfront by himself. He’ll be crowded out by the defense from getting to those balls if they are on the ground. And in the air, he won’t find much success just because of Chelsea’s height.

    His long balls may be successfull if they are diagnolly played to Nani or Valencia. But I expect Cole to have a Valencia covered, and I’m sure Ancelloti will tell Ramires and Bosingwa to take on Nani, not leaving much space for Nani.

    Sure Torres hasn’t scored, but my point was that he looks like he has figured out the Chelsea scheme. So its only a matter of time. And if he doesn’t play, Anelka and DD are no slouches either. My guess is Torres will start with Anelka and Kalou (who has been playing well recently) to give the side some speed. But DD will come on after the half.

    As for the comparison, folded and choked are more or less interchangeable. Chelsea haven’t won one, and their captain choked when he could have clinched it. But to say that they have folded is the same rash generalization you accused me of doing. Man U has won 3 times. But that doesn’t mean their record in Europe is consistent and that they haven’t gotten up for the biggest games.

    Another thing we’ve overlooked that Ancelloti has had SAF’s number. He beat him with Milan in 07, and he is 3 for 3 against him at Chelsea. So sure Chelsea hasn’t been in top form for most of this year, but they do bring themselves up against Man U. As for my Blue lenses, I don’t think its unanimous that Luiz should have been sent off. Funny, considering Man U has a history of always being awarded questionable decisions.

    Have fun watcing us in Wembley.

  5. EastCoastBias says:

    And going along with your logic, Chelsea were beaten by the best team in the competition last year. And were beaten by a marvelous Iniesta strike in 09. Hardly folding wouldn’t you say?

  6. Jay-Hoosier says:

    Carrick…man, what a joke with that ball to set up the United goal. Get in, Rooney!

  7. EastCoastBias says:

    …Even a blind squirrel finds a nut. Ferguson speak with the refs during halftime? Evra didn’t even come close to the ball on that Ramires tackel. Torres was not a pk- Ramires should have been.

    Good goal from Rooney. Let’s see what happens next week.

  8. Jay Hoosier says:

    Carrick was great Wednesday and outperformed all of the Chelsea midfield. You can’t deny that. It is also incredibly ironic that a Chelsea supporter is complaining about not getting at call at the Bridge. Evra’s challenge was a foul but contact began outside of the box. So, while it should have been a free-kick, it shouldn’t have been a penalty.

    Chelsea got their fair share of calls. Essian should have been booked in the first half (and thus sent off in the 2nd) for numerous late challenges on Rooney. The ref missed them though. Also, I see that Torres is rounding into his diving form. He should have been booked in the first half and was rightly booked in the 2nd.

    United deserved the win and they got it. On to Old Trafford.

  9. EastCoastBias says:

    Chelsea have had a history of not getting calls at the Bridge in the UCL. Please refer to Barcelona 2009 and this most recent example.

    Funny how you say contact began outside the box, but the rest of the neutral world agrees that the foul took place in the box. What’s done is done.

    Let’s see if Carrick can have a repeat performance at Old Trafford. In my opinion, Chelsea’s front line should be Kalou, DD, and Anelka. Back- ivanovic, alex, terry, and a cole. That gives us the best chance of breaking you guys down.

  10. chelsea!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. marko says:


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