The primary concern of Ancelotti will be finding a way to score at Old Trafford. Last week’s game at Stamford Bridge saw United control the first half of the match, and although Chelsea worked their way back into the game and enjoyed periods of sustained pressure they were unable to equalise. Untied, marginally the better side on the night, won the game.
Since the defeat many pundits and commentators have been calling for Chelsea to return to the 4-3-3 system that saw The Blues score a record 103 goals in the Premier League a season ago. With the signing of Fernando Torres for a record fee of £50 million, Ancelotti has experimented with different ways to include the Spanish striker in Chelsea’s system.
The 4-4-2 that Chelsea used last week against the Red Devils, and in the league in weeks previous, has seemed to have blunted Chelsea in recent weeks. Since January Chelsea have tried Torres, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou in a variety of combinations but between the four strikers only five goals have been scored in 12 games. Torres has failed to score for his new club.
Ancelotti’s problem is that he has not been able to ignite his forwards, but more worrying is that his reshuffling has compromised his players in midfield. Michael Essien and Florent Malouda have struggled to recapture their form of last season and Frank Lampard, who has been troubled by injuries earlier in the season, has failed to fire from his role in a two-man central midfield partnership.
Last night during a press conference Ancelotti confirmed that Torres would start at Old Trafford, but what does that mean for the rest of the Chelsea line-up? Against Wigan at the weekend Chelsea started with 4-3-3, but without Torres in the line-up. The Spaniards inclusion would mean leaving out Drogba so Torres can occupy his favoured role as a lone striker. This would probably best suit Chelsea’s midfielders. Lampard benefits from playing in a three as he is able to get forward more often. The additional defensive responsibilities of playing in a two leave him reluctant to make too many forward runs; furthermore the amount of space available to him when he bursts forward is reduced when playing with two central strikers.
If Chelsea are to continue with 4-4-2, as they have done in both games against United this year, Ancelotti has a decision as to whether he will play Drogba or Anelka. Drogba and Torres have failed to forge an effective partnership. Anelka may be a better partner thanks to his link-up play between midfield and attack, and his more selfless approach play.
As stated earlier, a drawback of playing a 4-4-2 is that Chelsea’s midfielders are less effective; both games at Stamford Bridge this season they have followed a pattern, with United playing the better football in the first portion of the game with Chelsea coming back into the game later on. While in the Premier League game Chelsea overpowered the Red Devils, they still suffered from a lack of creativity in the midfield.
Regardless how Ancelotti chooses to line up against United tonight his side faces a tough task if they are to win; Manchester United have only lost seven out of 81 home matches in the Champions League and are unbeaten at Old Trafford in all competitions this season. Previously only Ajax and Inter Milan have progressed after losing the first leg at home.