Ahead of tomorrow’s showdown the omens give both clubs cause for optimism and pessimism. United have failed to win in West London for nine seasons on the bounce, but although the Blues have an excellent record at home to United, previous all-English encounters have largely been bitter experiences for them. As well as the 2008 final, three ties with Liverpool have yielded just one success. United’s only other encounter with English opposition was a comprehensive semi-final dismantling of Arsenal in their ultimately unsuccessful 2009 campaign.
Of the two clubs Chelsea have had by far the more comfortable ride in the competition, having barely broken sweat in the group stages or their second round meeting with FC Copenhagen to advance to this stage, while United stumbled across the finish line against the un-fancied Marseille.
Chelsea’s league form also appears to have improved after a shaky winter period. Despite this, Saturday’s disappointing draw at Stoke City has most likely rendered the Champions League their last chance of silverware this season. One positive was that Didier Drogba looked closer to his goal scoring best at the weekend, forcing Fernando Torres to take a break from the limelight. The Ivorian also had an influence in changing last month’s encounter, and can be expected to feature heavily again, giving the inexperienced but so far impressive Chris Smalling a run for his money.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men could indeed be vulnerable at the back, with their well documented injury problems meaning the inexperienced Fabio will again stand in at right-back, while Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra will need to step up their game after unsettled performances at the weekend. This makes the combative Darren Fletcher’s continued absence from the middle of the park another worry, and means Michael Carrick will have to assert himself if United are to stop Frank Lampard and Michael Essien controlling the game. Although the Reds came out all guns blazing in the first-half at Stamford Bridge last month, with a degree of success until they were overrun in the second-half, with their current injury problems it appears unlikely that they will be that attacking this time round. Additionally, Ferguson tends to be more cautious in European away ties, preferring to shut out the opposition before increasing the tempo at Old Trafford.
Ferguson will also be back on the touchline tomorrow, with a break from his ban for criticising Martin Atkinson’s performance in the 2-1 reverse at Stamford Bridge. The Scot has been outspoken in his views that Chelsea have had favourable refereeing decisions, and although Carlo Ancelotti has refused to enter the mind games, the Blues will no doubt be mindful of their own sense of injustice from their semi-final defeat against Barcelona two years ago.