The last time Chelsea travelled to Old Trafford was in the Champions League quarter-final a month ago. The game then was very different for the Blues, who were already trailing by a goal after the first-leg and were under pressure going into the match. This time around it is Manchester United who are under pressure as Chelsea have nothing to lose. Even a defeat would see the Stamford Bridge outfit maintain their current Premier League position and this could very well motivate the players ahead of the clash.
Last time the Red Devils were happy to sit back and hit Chelsea on the counter-attack. The champions were often caught throwing too many men forward and allowed United to get past them on more than one occasion. Perhaps it was the urgency of the situation then, but Carlo Ancelotti will have to ensure he does not over-commit during the initial stages of the game itself.
A 38-year-old may appear to some an unlikely candidate to be the game’s most dangerous midfielder, but Ryan Giggs sure made Ancelotti pay for not taking him seriously in the Champions League. The United veteran cut through the Chelsea defence with his passing and provided all three assists for United’s goals over the two legs, which eventually dumped the Blues out of Europe.
When Javier Hernandez scored in the second-leg tie between these two sides, the Blues were guilty of sitting too deep in defence. It allowed United the chance to launch wave after wave of attack and the Blues had resorted to clearing the ball desperately with only 20 minutes on the clock. The pressure was eventually too much and United got their goal. In order to avoid being pushed up against the wall a second time, the former Milan Coach has to change his team’s mentality and maintain a high defensive line throughout.
Almost every manager who goes up against Sir Alex Ferguson would be aware that you have to guard the wings against United. Nani and Antonio Valencia are big threats with their incredible pace on the ball and cannot be left to make surging runs forward too often, which was evident when Valencia raced past the Blues to aid Giggs in setting up Ji Sung Park, just seconds after Didier Drogba had equalised, in the second leg.
However, the most important factor for Chelsea is they have to take their chances up front. The last time these sides met Chelsea dominated the initial proceedings by threatening early and getting into dangerous positions, but failed to capitalise. Most of their shots were off target and the ones that were not, went straight at Edwin van der Sar. The Blues will have to be precise with their shooting and at least look to test the goalkeeper with every shot they take. The game certainly appears to have the makings of a classic, and it would be remarkable if Ancelotti could lead his side to victory and turn Chelsea’s season around.