Club Focus – Chelsea – The battle of the midfields

Chelsea’s relentless goal-scoring run was partially halted this Tuesday in light of the big game at Old Trafford. Carlo Ancelotti and club captain John Terry were called in to rally the troops after abysmal displays away at Aston Villa and Wigan. Since doing so the Londoners have been rampant, pouring misery on Blackburn, Atletico Madrid and Bolton (twice) with fluent attacking performances. The side’s Champions League tie in Madrid on Tuesday night, despite ending as a draw, will be enough to see Chelsea progress to the knockout phase of the tournament.

Kun Aguero stole the show with two masterful finishes, the first an instinctive volley, rifled into the roof of Petr Cech’s net, the second a perfectly executed free-kick swirling over the wall and again past the diving Czech international. Sandwiched between these glimmering works of Spanish architecture and Argentinean creativity, lay a trademark Didier Drogba double. The powerful in-form Ivorian rose above the opposing Atletico defence to head home before netting a seemingly winning goal in the latter stages, breaking through one-on-one to profit at the second attempt. A last minute equaliser from the young Argentinean would have done little to impose on the growing confidence in the Blues’ dressing room, and the result will do little to affect Sunday’s pending proceedings. The Chelsea manager was quick to praise the two front men, insisting Aguero would flourish alongside Drogba in attack – Ancelotti’s interest the 21-year-old is no secret. The Atletico striker in reply refuted these reports and insisted he is happy at Atletico. Regardless of these claims, the transfer ban on Chelsea will restrict any development in the near future.

The real test for the Blues will noticeably arise this Sunday as Chelsea face title holders Manchester United. The Londoners are undoubtedly the in-form team heading into the tie, the footballing style has been friendly on the eye of late and the side will hope to carry this with them on their trip north. Manchester United is likely to be forced with a makeshift defence again this weekend as Jonny Evans will partner either Rio Ferdinand or John O’Shea at centre back as Nemanja Vidic struggles with a calf injury. The Reds midfield may also struggle to compete physically with the powerful Chelsea spine – Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard are likely to overpower the energetic Darren Fletcher and ageing Paul Scholes. Should the strength of the midfield prevail for the Londoners, Deco or Joe Cole will pick up the pieces and use imaginative fashion to release one of two predators in Nicolas Anelka and Drogba. The Ivorian in particular is set to cause the red defence considerable problems, however if Vidic is able to battle through injury and earn a recall he may be faced against Anelka. Vidic has shown a clear lack of comfort playing against pace, as Fernando Torres is all too aware of, the Serb is a confrontational and often ruthless centre-back, seeing red on two occasions against Liverpool.

Manchester United go into Sunday’s battle of the titans on the back of salvaging a result after falling 3-1 behind at home to CSKA Moscow. The red of United has somewhat fallen in the shadows of the Blue of London this season, despite the Red Devils trailing top spot by two points, focus has shifted to the growth of Man City, the failings of Liverpool and the flair of Chelsea. Manchester United will be out to prove a point that without Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez, that they are the best team in the Premier League. Players such as Darren Fletcher and Park Ji Sung may not ring the same prowess and fear when read on the team sheet by opposition; nonetheless players of this magnitude are able to provide valiant performances through an insistent and innate determination. Sir Alex Ferguson often picks these characteristics over natural ability when entering a ‘top four’ clash, in the know they produce reliability. However this was often balanced with a ‘special’ match winner in Ronaldo or Tevez, will this provide an imbalance in the Manchester United side and ultimately create their undoing?

Chelsea, on the contrary, have found their balance this season with a midfield engine of Essien protecting the back line and power and quality through Ballack and Lampard. Still withholding magic weapons to employ at their own dispense in attack with Deco and Cole and arguably the most feared pairing in world football in Drogba and Anelka to contend with. The game will be a tight affair and home advantage may favour United with form often disregarded in the title challenging clashes.

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