United v Chelsea: key battles

Sunday’s clash with Chelsea at Old Trafford is, essentially, a title decider. At least for the Londoners, for whom defeat will surely end all hope of retaining the Premier League. Having already faced each other four times this season, twice in Europe, the Community Shield and at Stamford Bridge, there is little the teams do not already know about each other. And as so often in clashes of this magnitude it is the details that will decide the outcome; the one-on-one battles that will turn the title race in Chelsea’s favour or a seal a 19th domestic championship for United.

Didier Drogba v Nemanja Vidic
The United captain’s problems with Fernando Torres have been always been overstated but with the Spaniard in poor form it is unlikely the £50 million striker will have the opportunity to repeat the trick. Instead, with Ancelotti having restored the Chelsea players’ preferred 4-3-3 formation Vidic must snuff out the considerably more dangerous Drogba, if the Ivorian can be bothered, of course. Drogba’s performances have not reached the heights of previous campaigns, not aided by a dose of malaria, evidenced by just 11 Premier League goals this season. But the 33-year-old still has the power to win matches on his own.

Frank Lampard v Michael Carrick
The Geordie’s inability to deal with Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey at the Emirates last weekend cost United dearly, with Ferguson’s side losing possession and territory in midfield. Tiredness perhaps but Carrick returned to the lethargic performances of the past two seasons against Arsenal and United cannot afford a similar performance on Sunday. Yet Carrick will perform a crucial role screening Lampard’s runs from deep and recycling possession to ensure United win the midfield battle at Old Trafford. Carrick is not a natural destroyer but alongside Ryan Giggs, the former Tottenham Hotspur player played a central role in United’s victory over Chelsea in the Champions League this season.

Antonio Valencia v Ashley Cole
The Ecuadorian’s role during United’s run-in has been remarkable given the serious nature of the broken ankle suffered in September. Valencia has not only returned to fitness, but supplanted Nani in the United side, with the 24-year-old former Wigan Athletic winger likely to start against Chelsea on Sunday. Valencia’s no-nonsense style, defensive discipline and pace have made him both a fan-favourite and Sir Alex Ferguson’s preferred choice on the right-wing. But in Ashley Cole, Valencia faces one of Europe’s finest left-backs. It will prove a crucial personal duel that Valencia needs to win if United is to negate the threat down Chelsea’s left flank.

Wayne Rooney v John Obi Mikel
Rooney’s spring renaissance has coincided with a return to the ‘number 10′ position of the player’s youth, offering the former Evertonian freedom and reducing the player’s goalscoring burden. The player’s influence from a deeper position was in evidence during the recent Champions League matches between the sides where Rooney not only provided United’s creative heartbeat but augmented United’s central midfield when defending. With Chelsea likely to play three central midfielders at Old Trafford Rooney will again be required deep, to ensure United is not outnumbered in the engine room and to cut off the supply to Mikel who is the catalyst for the Londoners’ attacking play.

Javier Hernández v David Luiz
Luiz’ pace is a crucial compliment to John Terry in the heart of Chelsea’s central defence. The restored England captain is neither the quickest over the ground nor, if his positional sense is anything to go by, up top but Luiz has added an extra dimension to Chelsea’s defence since a £25 million January transfer. The Brazilian is seemingly a foul waiting to happen but, perhaps tellingly, Hernández had far less success against the former Benfica man in the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge than in the recent European games.

Sir Alex Ferguson v Carlo Ancelotti
Will United retain the 4-4-1-1 formation that proved Chelsea’s undoing in the Champions League? Will Ancelotti keep the 4-4-2 that prove so unsuccessful in the same series of matches? It is possible each will change, with Ancelotti using a three man attack in recent domestic matches, while Ferguson may be tempted to augment United’s midfield and deploy Rooney in a lone front man role. As ever, the game will be decided on the minor details, where substitutions will play a key role. While Ancelotti is likely to keep Torres in reserve, Ferguson can call on Dimitar Berbatov, still the Premier League’s top goalscorer.

Howard Webb v Everbody
The common perception that Webb favours United is based, largely, on the penalty the former police officer gave against Tottenham Hotspur in April 2009. While the foul by Heurelho Gomes on Michael Carrick was preceded by a flick of the ball, the ‘keeper took man and ball, which is, by any definition, a penalty. Add in the failure to dismiss Spurs’ Wilson Palacios for a two-footed lunge in the same game and Webb’s contribution appears markedly less ‘pro-United’. Then there’s the bizarre dismissal of Cristiano Ronaldo against Manchester City in November 2008, where the Portuguese was shown red for deliberate handball. The winger batted the ball to the floor, volleyball-style, having seemingly been pushed in the back. Moreover, the official has never given a penalty against Chelsea. It’s a picture rarely painted by the mainstream media.

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  1. SpudiatorSpudiator says

    Agree about Webb, he seems to get a lot of stick from fans, most notably the Liverpool fans (and Ryan Babel) for his performance in the FA Cup match in January, but I actually think he’s one of the better refs, he doesn’t seem as flappable as all too many of them and doesn’t appear to allow ranting players to influence his decisions.

  2. damian garside says

    Thought of the absolute height of bumsqueakiness: we are losing 1-0 but get a penalty in the 3rd minute of added on time.

  3. Ted says

    Thought Jimmy Spark was tremendous today. The cunt never stopped working. Cutting out their play, looking to go forward with it. He gave Carrick another day off.

  4. ltel says

    carrick did his job well.. not flashy but keeps it tickin over..
    hard to pick a motm.. valenvia giggs park vida mexico rio all super

  5. says

    All good performances but surely Valencia gets MOM, made the supposed best left back in the world look like Jimmy Beermonster from the Dog and Duck.

  6. damian garside says

    fuck playing with my new toy truck. To quote Hermann Goering: if we lose now we need to get our arses kicked. This might make up for rubbing you up the wrong way earlier:

    We are the best in the world! We are the best in the world! We have beaten Chelski 2-1 in football!! It is completely unbelievable! We have beaten the Chelsea team of rouble mercenaries without a midfield! Pat Nevin, Peter Osgood, Fernando refugee-from- scouseland Torres, David Mellor, Michael Caine, Mark Atkinson, Peter sell-his-own-soul Kenyon, Chapper Harris, Bobby Tambling,Didier Drogba, Ray Wilkins. Pat Nevin, can you hear me? Pat Nevin I have a message for you. Your season is now totally stuffed. We just need one point and we are home and dry. We are the brink of the most titles in the history of English football. John Terry, as they say in your language in the boxing bars around Red Square Moscow: Your boys took a hell of a beating.. Your boys took a hell of a beating.

  7. Pikey McScumPikey McScum says

    captainhormone said:
    i was disappointed bebe didn’t start today

    Sorry mate, I’ve hired him in to do some tarring for me.

    It’s not like he’s busy anyway…

  8. Pikey McScumPikey McScum says

    Ted said:
    Did we see the team that will start against Barca today?

    Yes – with Evra coming in for Fabio, probably

    And Fletch for……

  9. captainhormonecaptainhormone says

    Pikey McScum said:
    Sorry mate, I’ve hired him in to do some tarring for me.

    It’s not like he’s busy anyway…

    fair comment…i understand

  10. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    fuck sake, I forgot we had that cunt, whyd you have to bring him up for

    oh great, and now I’ve remembered we’ve got obentran, thanks for that

  11. MrKirie says


    Not one of our players had a bad game, they worked their socks off!

    Special mention goes to Valencia, Park, Hernandez, Van Der Sar, Vidic….. you know what, EVERYONE gets a special mention!

    Also good to have won the game without Webb. Stonewall penalty declined, how they didn’t see that was unbelievable! Now let’s get that win against Blackburn and seal #19

  12. dozer says

    Didier Drogba v Nemanja Vidic – Vidic, just
    Frank Lampard v Michael Carrick – carrick, jsut.
    Antonio Valencia v Ashley Cole – ho ho ho
    Wayne Rooney v John Obi Mikel – Mikel and Rooney played well.
    Javier Hernández v David Luiz – ho ho ho
    Sir Alex Ferguson v Carlo Ancelotti – at home, this was predecided really.
    Howard Webb v Everbody – we’d have won 5-0 with a decent ref in charge

  13. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Mikel IS horrendous…
    I can’t believe we fought so hard to sign him.

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

  14. herbie simms says

    Whats this about Bebe? Has he been doing some good stuff in the reserves? If so, maybe we can give him a runout against Blackburn or Blackpool. But I don’t think SAF will make many changes to the team against Blackburn as we still need one more point and Blackburn are fighting relegation.

    • mongoletsi says

      There’s footage on YouTube. He seems to be a lot better – but if the vids are anything to go by, his final ball is pretty woeful.

      But then, Giggs was the same when he burst on to the scene!

      Anyway from what you can see online, maybe he just needs time and practice – he’s pretty unique in having no real experience.

      One for the future.

  15. says

    Well, now we know our best team! Fergie knows that this is close enough to the best 11. Versus Barca what I think he needs to do is work on plan B and plan C, because plan A involves what we did so well against Chelsea: domination of the right flank through Valencia, Park pressurizing in midfield, Rooney feeding Hernandez whose positioning is so good you cannot play an offside trap against him, and whose finishing is proving to be deadly. Plan B would involve Nani, Berbetov and possibly Anderson operating according to a somewhat different plan, and plan C…?

    Life always catches you out: there is always something you never expect: Park, Giggs and Carrick dominating the Chelsea `strong man’ midfield. park grinding Essien into the turf. Own up: who foresaw this happening? I drew two Osheo Zen tarot cards just before the game started one for Utd andf one for Chelsea: we got `intensity’ (how appropriate is that given how we came at them in the first 30 minutes) and they got `morality’ (so maybe they will learn a lot from this for next season).

    Cheers and hope this morning you look worse than you feel vis-a-vis hangovers (presuming the celebrations last night were really worth writing home about).

  16. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Why’s that… you get your end wet?

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

  17. SpudiatorSpudiator says

    Meh, would’ve preferred to see “Come On You Reds” (our 1994 FA Cup Final song) pushed, that was a cool song.

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