Last week at the Bridge, Manchester United pulled off a clinical 1-0 victory over my beloved Blues. With the exception of Didier Drogba’s effort off the post at the end of the first half, Chelsea never threatened Edwin Van Der Sar. Although the Blues had a legitimate penalty claim when Patrice Evra challenged Ramires with minutes to play in the second half, the fact still remains that Chelsea need to pull off a victory at Old Trafford in order to advance to the semifinals of the Champions League.
Winning at Old Trafford isn’t easy, and Manchester United is undefeated at home this year in the EPL. Chelsea, however, did manage a 2-1 victory last year at the Theater of Dreams, and if the Blues want any chance of having a repeat performance, then the midfield trio of Lampard, Essien, and Ramires need to step up their game. Giggs and Carrick controlled the game last week for the Red Devils, and they were instrumental in setting up Rooney’s goal. Chelsea were slow in the midfield, and many times were unable to string multiple passes together.
United will be looking to press the issue at home tomorrow and go on the offensive, meaning Chelsea will have to sit back and wait for their chance on the counter. But it is absolutely necessary for them to break with speed and not give United a chance to recover. Quite frankly, breaking Manchester United down in a slow, methodical manner is extremely difficult, and Chelsea do not have Iniesta or Xavi pulling the strings. Carrick, Giggs, and Ferdinand are not blessed with speed, and its up to Essien and Ramires to take advantage of this and get the ball to the attack force in a hurry.
Carlo Ancelloti will also be wise to leave Fernando Torres on the bench. Chelsea’s season is on the line, and they cannot play a waiting game any longer. In my opinion, Chelsea need to play Kalou, Drogba, and Anelka up front. Rafael is an injury concern for United on the right, and they do not have someone with speed to cover for him. As a result, Ancelloti should play Kalou on the left and give him the chance to slash past his defender. Anelka also offers speed on the right, and his runs give Drogba space in the box. The two of them have a familiarity with each other, and Drogba, as he so often does, may be able to lay a ball off for Anelka to finish.
Last week, Ryan Giggs made a mockery of Jose Bosingwa’s defending. Ancelloti needs to leave Bosingwa on the bench and put Ivanovic on the right-hand side of the defense. Ivanovic blossomed as an attacking right-back while Bosingwa was injured, but more importantly, he is more astute defensively than Bosingwa. United will surely be looking to attack early with their speed on the wings, and Ivanovic is better equipped than Bosingwa to contain either Valencia or Nani.
Who will then pair up with John Terry in the center, might you ask? Alex is back from a long layoff, and he has impressed as a central defender. Although it’s a risk bringing him on in today’s game, Chelsea, if last week proved anything, are more likely to get beat by diagonal balls to the wings rather than through the center of the pitch.
Finally, Chelsea cannot afford to be careless with the ball. There were too many loose passes last week, especially in the center of the pitch, and Chelsea were fortunate that United did not turn them into more goals. Additionally, by giving away the ball so cheaply last week, Chelsea were unable to maintain an offensive rhythm, and this was highlighted by the fact that Chelsea were rarely able to move the ball deep in the United end. If Chelsea give the ball away at Old Trafford, then they will leave with their tails between their you-know-what. This can be solved if they play quick, crisp passes through to their strikers or to the wings on the counter. As I said earlier, they will lose if they try to break Manchester United down in a slow, methodical manner.
I’m going to refrain from giving an exact prediction, as that did not help my cause last week. Chelsea need to stay patient because if they try to press early, then they may be left vulnerable at the back. They need to take what the Red Devils give them and play within themselves. An early goal would be great, as it would break the tie wide open, but they should not be discouraged if the goal does not come early. With that being said, goodluck and go Chelsea!