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He's 37 years old and has been playing for Manchester United for a minimum of 52 years now, but it doesn't mean he can't get the job done. United squared off against Chelsea in the most anticipated of this year's UEFA Champions league quarterfinal ties and the best player over the two legs was the old man, Ryan Giggs. It wasn't a close call either. Toss his age out of the window. In the biggest tie of the quarterfinal stage in the world's biggest club tournament, Giggs was the best player over the two legs by a large margin.
In neither of the two legs did Manchester United control possession, but they made the important plays that led to their fair share of dangerous chances on goal. Three of those chances led to goals and shocker, Giggs was involved in all three. Not bad for an old man.
In the first leg, the Red Devils stole a win at Stamford Bridge and it came because Giggs was smarter than everyone else. After a corner was cleared, but not quite far enough away, Giggs snuck out on the left. The Welshman played both legs in the center so being on the left wasn't where he was supposed to be, but that's where he ended up because he recognized Jose Bosingwa had completely vacated the left side. Once Giggs got out on the left, he gathered the ball, took it towards the endline and crossed perfectly for Wayen Rooney who finished for the goal.
In the second leg, Giggs was back in on both of United goals. The first time he played an inch perfect ball across the face of goal that left Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez with the simplest of finishes. The next goal came when Giggs spotted Park Ji-Sung and of course, he was spot on again. The ball into Park was right on his chest and the goal from it crushed Chelsea's souls.
In addition to his being at the center of the moves to all of United's goals, Giggs was an influence the entire tie. He tackled well and helped maintain the team's shape. While the Red Devils were content to give Chelsea the bulk of the possession, they looked to strike quickly through the center of their midfield when they did get the ball and more often than not, it was through Giggs. He controlled the United attack and did so masterfully, as United's advancement to the Champions League semifinals can attest to.
Giggs made his league debut for United on March 2, 1991. 7,346 days later, Giggs put the capper on two incredible Champions League legs against Chelsea, a tie he was undoubtedly the best player in. Not bad for an old man. If he can continue to play at this level at 37, is there any doubt that he will live until at least 150 years old? He will probably also win Man of the Match in the 2109 Galactical Club Championship against Northern Pluto FC.
Though the result was not particularly surprising in the end, the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal tie between Manchester United and Chelsea FC hardly lived up to expectations, as the Red Devils won 3-1 in a tie that didn't exactly live up to expectations. Fernando Torres continued to struggle, Carlo Ancelotti's tactics were questionable, and the entertainment value in the tie was simply lacking until late in the second half of the second tie.
Ryan Giggs was absolutely fantastic over both legs, just as he has been whenever he's played all season. The Welsh Wizard appears to be absolutely ageless, and if he can be a world class footballer for an incredible 20 years, it's fun to wonder how long he might be able to live. 120 year old great great grandpa Giggs might be teaching his great grandaughter's son how to play in the backyard.
He set up Javier Hernandez's opening goal in the 43rd minute, and in that moment, it seemed like the tie was all but over. When Ramires was sent off in the 69th minute, it appeared to be even more over. Didier Drogba added some brief drama when he scored a goal in the 76th minute, but Giggs and Park Ji-Sung combined to score just one minute later, completely putting the tie to bed.
Coming back from two goals down while down a man was always a fantasy. Chelsea were never going to come back and level the aggregate with Manchester United after Ramires was shown red. Of course, the Blues had to give their supporters a bit of hope when Didier Drogba scored to make the match level at 1-1 and only 2-1 on aggregate. That bit of excitement and hope from the Drogba goal lasted all of a minute though. Manchester United came right back with a goal to put Chelsea two goals down on aggregate and end the tie.
Ryan Giggs had the ball in the center from 25 yards out and spotted Park Ji-Sung on the left. The Welshman played Park in and the Korean controlled the ball with his chest before firing low with his left foot past Petr Cech for the United goal. The goal lit up Old Trafford and have United well on their way to the UEFA Champions League semifinal.
The ten men of Chelsea have pulled back a goal in the 76th minute of their UEFA Champions League tie against Manchester United, bringing the aggregate score back to 2-1 in favor of Manchester United. Nemanja Vidic stepped up to try to play Drogba offsides as the ball came through to him, but the Ivorian stayed onside and finished low past Edwin van der Sar. Chelsea, though they've had a good deal of possession and a decent number of shots, have hardly looked like scoring all match, so it's slightly surprising that Didier Drogba has been able to bring one back, especially with his team down a man.
Obviously, this begs the question, "Should Didier Drogba have started?" The answer is almost certainly yes, and this is not just because hindsight is 20/20. Fernando Torres was not only ineffective tonight, but he's been ineffective in almost every single game that he's played in a Chelsea shirt, with only a couple of exceptions. Didier Drogba has been arguably the best player for Chelsea since coming on, and not just because of his goal. Still, it looks like too little, too late.
If the tie wasn't over when Javier Hernandez scored for Manchester United just before the stroke of halftime, it is almost certainly over now. Chelsea midfielder Ramires has been sent off in the 69th minute after picking up a second yellow card for a challenge from behind on Nani. It was a silly and rather soft challenge to get sent off for, but his tackle was clumsy and from behind, leaving the referee little choice but to show yellow.
Chelsea were finding it hard enough to score with 11 men, so there's no reason to like their chances with 10. It's almost surprising that the crowd at Old Trafford hasn't begun singing "You're getting sacked in the morning" to Carlo Ancelotti. Obviously, Chelsea aren't locked into a top four place and have to secure Champions League football next season, but if Chelsea lose tonight, and it looks like they will, Roman Abramovic may have finally lost his patience.
Though it wasn't the Yossi Benayoun introduction that we called for, Carlo Ancelotti has made a positive and interesting change, bringing on Solomon Kalou for Nicolas Anelka. Anelka hasn't had a particularly good game for Chelsea, and it was obvious shortly into the second half that his minutes on the pitch were numbered. Solomon Kalou is well noted for being either a poor finisher or terribly unlucky, depending on who you ask, but he's also extremely fast, tricky, and technically sound.
Regardless of how good of a change Kalou is, Chelsea still have a very tough task in front of them. There's not a lot of reason to believe that Chelsea are going to be able to score twice. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, and Edwin van der Sar have all been brilliant, as always. With a healthy team in place, Manchester United simply aren't going to allow Chelsea to score two goals in 30 minutes at Old Trafford.
Normally, during the (thus far, failed) Fernando Torres experiment at Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti has waited until the 60th minute to remove the £50m star whenever he has been poor, which has been much too frequently. Today, he's decided not to wait to see if Torres can improve his game, and he's removed the Spaniard at halftime, replacing him with Didier Drogba.
Despite the fact that Nicolas Anelka and Torres did not play the same position in this match, with Anelka operating behind Torres as one of two trequaristas in a 4-3-2-1 formation, the Frenchman was considerably less effective in the first half than Torres, and due to his play and Ancelotti's history of substitution patterns with Torres, it's a mild surprise that Anelka was not the man removed. If Ancelotti plans to stay with this formation throughout the second half, we might get a chance to see Yossi Benayoun, a natural in that position who was out for an extended period of time with an injury.
Chelsea FC already had an extremely difficult task ahead of them when they stepped out onto the pitch at Old Trafford, but thanks to a great combination between Ryan Giggs and Javier Hernandez, it's gotten even more difficult. Chelsea are now down 2-0 on aggregate to Manchester United, and they need to score twice to go through. While that was always the case, the option of a draw with extra time has now been taken off the table, as the teams can no longer be tied with the same number of away goals.
The story to start the match was Chelsea's team selection, as Fernando Torres started ahead of Didier Drogba and the Blues lined up in a narrow 4-2-3-1 Christmas tree formation. Their lack of width both in defense and going forward has been a bit of a problem, despite the fact that they have enjoyed a majority of the possession. Nicolas Anelka has not been good so far, and Carlo Ancelotti will have both personnel and formation changes to consider.
Game, set, and match? Well, not quite, but it now seems highly unlikely that Chelsea FC will turn their deficit into a winning margin at this point. Manchester United have scored a goal just before the stroke of halftime through Javier Hernandez, the little pea who just can't stop scoring. Chicharito has been an incredible buy for Alex Ferguson, scoring well into the double digits of goals. Meanwhile, Fernando Torres is still scoreless for Chelsea.
Ryan Giggs was the man who provided the assist, and it was a brilliant one. The Welsh Wizard, now Giggs the Grey, is looking as quick and youthful as ever. Following a set piece, Wayne Rooney played a switch from the left side of the pitch to the right, finding Giggs on the wing. He played a nice one-two combination with John O'Shea, eventually beating his man and putting a low ball on a plate for Chicharito across the face of goal. All Hernandez had to do was tap it in, and he did just that. United now lead 2-0 on aggregate and Chelsea will struggle to find a way back into the tie.
On the 27th minute of the UEFA Champions League tie between Manchester United and Chelsea, it appeared to be game, set, and match. John O'Shea swung a great ball from the left flank to the edge of the six yard box, and it appeared the Chicharito had timed his run perfectly to stay onside as he ran onto the ball and headed it into the back of the net. However, the linesman flagged for offside, and Chelsea are still very much alive.
Upon looking at the slow-motion reply, it appears that the referee got his decision absolutely correct. Chicharito, though just by the narrowest of margins, was indeed offsides. Had he been six inches farther away from goal, he likely would have still met the ball in time, scored, and given United an insurmountable lead. Instead, it's still 0-0, and Chelsea are still just one goal away from forcing extra time.
This isn't one of those English Premier League matches where the referee lets a lot of contact go. This might have something to do with the fact that this UEFA Champions League match, despite being contested between two English teams, is not being played in the English Premier League. So, there's no Howard Webb or Mark Clattenburg to let boys be boys. Instead, referee Olegário Benquerença (what a mouthful that name is!) seems to be a little bit more of a 'letter of the law' type of official, not letting any soft fouls go.
These are two great professional football teams and many of these players have played in various leagues around the world, so they should be able to adjust to the different style of officiating. Thus far, a lot of players have been whistled for fouls during challenges that would just be called good, hard, physical play by a lot of English referees, and they'll have to change their game.
Chelsea put out a lineup to start this game that everyone thought would be a 4-3-3, and when Carlo Ancelotti hinted pre-game that it was not, in fact, a 4-3-3, most people were pretty confused. Apparently, he said we'd just have to wait and see with a sly tone. After 15 minutes of play, his team's shape has become completely visible as both teams (and I) have settled in, and it's an unmistakable 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree setup. Florent Malouda and Ramires are flanking Michael Essien in the center of midfield, while Nicolas Anelka and Framk Lampard are both operating behind Fernando Torres as duel trequartistas with some positional freedom.
It is, if nothing else, interesting. The team has had a few jitters figuring out exactly how they're supposed to play in this setup, but they've created some shots and they look very capable of keeping possession. Thus far, their lack of width from midfield/forward players and their fullbacks pushing high up the pitch hasn't been a problem.
Though Chelsea FC's lineup looks like a 4-3-3 on paper, Carlo Ancelotti hinted to the press pre-match that his lineup was actually something a little different, and early on, it appears that he was not just playing mind games. Florent Malouda is not playing wide, while Frank Lampard is playing a much more advanced position than Michael Essien. It looks like a narrow 4-4-2 diamond with Lampard as a trequarista behind the two strikers in the early going. Though, Anelka is playing behind Torres. So...it's kind of a de facto Christmas tree? God this is weird.
Manchester United are doing a good job in the opening minutes of pressuring Chelsea high up the pitch, and they've already forced a couple of giveaways, though they haven't been able to turn that into scoring chances. Park Ji-Sung's work rate has already been a big factor, and it will likely continue to be. Surprisingly, he's operating on the right, not the left.
Yep, it happened. Roman Abramovic picked the team, or so the experts believe. Fernando Torres starts, while Didier Drogba sits on the bench. It's quite possible that Carlo Ancelotti actually believes that Drogba is not the best option for his team this evening, but I find that highly unlikely. As Ancelotti is a man on his last legs as manager anyway, I'm sure he was willing to play Torres if that's what the boss wanted. Otherwise, his team selection makes perfect sense as Chelsea lines up in a 4-3-3 that should allow them to keep the ball against Manchester United's 4-4-2.
Chelsea lineup (4-4-2): Cech; Cole, Terry, Alex, Ivanovic; Essien, Lampard, Ramires; Malouda, Torres, Anelka
Though Torres has failed to score to this point in a Chelsea shirt, surely I can't be the only one feeling like the time is now for him to pull out an epic "eff you" game. He's Fernando Torres. He's still a good player. Surely he has to remember this at some point.
We'll have your lineup for Manchester United in their UEFA Champions League match against Chelsea in a couple of paragraphs, but I have to rant. Before I go on a rant, I need to make sure something is abundantly clear: Alex Ferguson knows more about football than I do. I am well aware of this fact. He is one of the greatest football managers of all time, and I am a guy who writes about football from his apartment. My apartment building has over 100 units and it is not a dump. Alex Ferguson could probably buy my apartment building because he has made that much money from being excellent at managing football clubs.
Now that we have that sorted, I'm not exactly sure what he's thinking with his team selection today. It looks very similar to the one he played last week, which was generally outplayed despite the fact that his team won. Let's take a look.
Manchester United lineup (4-4-2): Van Der Sar; Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, O'Shea; Park, Giggs, Carrick, Nani; Rooney, Hernandez
Antonio Valencia is not in this team, and I can only hope that means that Nani is playing on the right and Park Ji-Sung is on the left. Because if there isn't an attacking player on the right to pin back Ashley Cole...oh boy. Also, why Chicharito? He was ineffective in the first game and Chelsea should be able to dominate possession against this setup, even though Rooney will drop back into midfield. This lineup seems to simply bank on Chelsea being stupd and/or Torres inexplicably continuing to be useless. Chelsea will dominate possession against this team. I really don't get it at all.
Dominic Fifield, if you are unaware, is a reporter from the Guardian and if this news is true it’s certainly interesting. Chelsea are yet to play Fernando Torres as a lone striker and this seems like a risky time for such an extreme tactical shift; the smart money here would be on an attack-minded 4-3-3 from the Blues with Torres flanked by Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou.
There’s much more to this story than the tactical impact of course; Fernando Torres, as you may possibly have heard in passing at some point recently, has yet to score since moving to Chelsea from Liverpool and it’s not as though he’s made any massive contributions not related to putting the ball in the net either. While it’s reasonable to expect him to have a break-out moment at some point he’s been in poor form for a not insignificant period of time and to start him in favor of Drogba is somewhat of a surprise to say the least. There’s no real way of knowing at this point how much of an impact the wishes of Roman Abramovich might have played into the decision, but make no mistake-fair or not, questions are being asked.
Losing 1-0 at home in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League tie is a difficult thing to overcome. When two teams are fairly even, it's tough to overstate the advantage that the winning team has in the second leg of the tie. After Manchester United's 1-0 win last week at Stamford Bridge, they hold such an advantage over Chelsea. Obviously, the Blues are a good enough team to overturn a one goal deficit against anyone in the world, but it doesn't get any tougher than needing a win at the Theater of Dreams.
Graham MacAree from SB Nation's Chelsea FC blog We Ain't Got No History isn't terribly optimistic about his team's prospects in the second leg, but he hasn't completely written them off either.
Coming back from 1-0 down at home is difficult but not impossible. In fact, we've seen it happen already this year, when Inter Milan beat Bayern Munich 3-2 at the Allianz Arena after losing 1-0 at the San Siro - and I'd guess this match is about as closely matched. However, in keeping with my usual massively sunny personality, I'm not expecting a win here. That might make me a bad Chelsea fan, but last week hurt and I can't say with any confidence we'll turn it around.
As we've seen in their recent matches against Schalke and AC Milan, Inter aren't exactly the gutsiest, most mentally tough team in the world. Chelsea are very much capable of doing just about anything that Inter does these days, so all hope is not lost.
In the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal tie between Manchester United and Chelsea FC, Chelsea were the slightly better team in the center of midfield as the game went on, despite Wayne Rooney dropping back from a forward position to help out with responsibilities in the middle of the pitch. A lot of this had to do with the way the two teams lined up in the first place, but it had just as much to do with the fact that United played deeper as the game wore on.
In the second leg, The Busby Babe thinks that the center of midfield will be one of the major keys to the game between Manchester United and Chelsea.
Much of this will be determined by the shape that both managers deploy their sides in. If United play with two central midfielders and with Rooney acting as a third auxiliary midfielder, then it will be essential for Chelsea to make adjustments. This is especially true if Chelsea play in a '4-4-2.' The Blues will then need to divide up roles between their two central midfielders; one in a pure holding role and one higher up the pitch closer to attack. If Chelsea play with three central midfielders, then the central players will be staggered vertically and provide natural positional foils to United's players; in that occurrence, it'll simply come down to individual match-ups. If United play in a '4-3-3' shape, this likely means they will play on the counter, a very possible strategy with a current one-goal lead.
While United played in the first leg with a 4-4-2 with Rooney dropping deep, it seems likely that the combination of United's lead and a healthy Darren Fletcher could cause the Scottish international to come in for Chicharito, shifting United into a 4-3-3 setup. If this is the case and Fletcher is teamed up with a holder and a creator, United could have an advantage in the middle that makes it tough for Chelsea to get the win they desperately need.
Following their disappointing 1-0 loss at home in the first leg of this tie, Chelsea FC are faced with an obvious must-win situation on Tuesday. To advance in the UEFA Champions League, they must defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford. Unlike most Champions League ties, this second leg has no myriad of scenarios, and is instead very simple. If Chelsea wins, they advance. If they fail to win, they don't.
As disappointing as the first leg of this tie was for Chelsea, it was more or less a microcosm for their entire season. Fernando Torres is still yet to score in a blue shirt, while Chelsea have been out of the English Premier League title race for quite some time. At this point, they're not exactly expected to pull off big wins. For such an incredible collection of talent, Chelsea have disappointed all year. It almost goes without saying that one more disappointment will cost Carlo Ancelotti has job.
For Manchester United, Rafael da Silva is their only doubt, and he has not yet been ruled out of the match. United may not be the best team in the world, but they are almost beyond any shadow of a doubt the deepest team in the world. Alex Ferguson is a master of rotating his lineup and tailoring his team selections and formations to specific opponents, so with a full roster available, he must feel like a kid in a candy shop. Unfortunately, United's healthy roster and Ferguson's selection policies make my job very hard.
I don't know who Ferguson is going to pick on Tuesday, and neither do you. Very intelligent and informed people try to pick United's first team and tactics and get it wrong all the time. It's okay to admit it; Alex Ferguson is smarter than I am. He's smarter than almost all of the people he manages against. He's certainly smarter than 99 percent of the bloggers and journalists that cover his team.
I know his team will include Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, and Nemanja Vidic. I am fairly certain that his lineup will also include Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher, and Park Ji-Sung. My guesses for the other players in the lineup are Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs, and Michael Carrick. I will not be the least bit ashamed of myself if only those first four players are correct.
Ancelotti's selection is also a bit of a question mark, and once again, the biggest question centers around Fernando Torres. He did not start against Wigan, but was it because he was being rested for Champions League or because Ancelotti is finally fed up with the fact that he doesn't score? Based on last week, I assume the former, but it's possible that Torres is finally out of favor.
In the end, Ancelotti will probably pick the same lineup he did last week, and why not? It obviously worked. His team didn't hit the back of the net, but they were the better team. Finishing and the referee failed them, not the formation and tactics. Anyone who watched the game knows that Chelsea were the better side. Sorry, United fans. It's the truth.
Though, despite the fact that Chelsea were the better team last week, who is going to bet against United at the Theater of Dreams? Possibly my alcoholic, gambling addict ex-wife, but not I.
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