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So much for Sir Alex Ferguson's UEFA Champions League script of going away in the first leg and getting a scoreless draw before going through with a win at home in the second leg. Manchester United went to Stamford Bridge for the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie and came away with a 1-0 victory thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal as well as some fortunate refereeing at the end. The Red Devils will now head back to Old Trafford for next week's second leg knowing that any sort of draw will see them through to the semifinals.
Chelsea were actually the better side in the early going, although no one would call them dominant. Any edge that the Blues had though they lost in the 24th minute when Rooney scored in the Champions League quarterfinals for the fifth consecutive year. A cleared corner kick didn't make it quite far enough and Michael Carrick was able to spot Ryan Giggs out on the left. Giggs had acres of space because Jose Bosingwa was nowhere to be found and took the ball to the end line before crossing for Rooney. From there, it was a classy sidefooted finish just inside the post for Rooney and United were ahead 1-0.
Chasing a goal, Chelsea put all the pressure on United in the closing moments of the first half only to be denied by late defending and bad luck. Fernando Torres was set up beautifully only to put the ball off the bar. Frank Lampard followed by putting the ball on what appeared to be an open goal, but Patrice Evra cleared it off the line. Another Lampard attempt was blocked and the Blues were left to wonder how they weren't level going into halftime.
The second half brought more of the same with United getting some chances, but Chelsea being the better side. Being the better side didn't matter though because Chelsea couldn't find a goal. It didn't help that Torres continued to be ineffectual and is now 10 matches into his Chelsea career without a goal. He almost got one in the 75th minute when he did well to leap and snap a header towards the side netting, but Edwin van der Sar made a tremendous save to continue Torres' frustration.
Chelsea would be left to turn their attention to the referee in the waning minutes though as two penalty decisions went against them. First, Ramires was taken to the ground by Evra in one of the more obvious penalties anyone will see. Evra was on the wrong side of Ramires, trampled all over Ramires and knocked him to the ground with no possible argument on behalf of Evra's innocence. Even so, the referee inexplicably told Ramires to get up and the Blues were rightfully incensed.
A few moments later Chelsea were denied another penalty, this time when Rio Ferdinand took down Torres. It wasn't as obvious a penalty as the previous one. Torres wasn't completely run over by Ferdinand like Ramires was by Evra, but Ferdinand still came around Torres and put his foot in Torres way. Torres went down, undoubtedly making the most of the contact, but the contact was there and Ferdinand impeded Torres chance in the box and the referee missed it.
As unfortunate as Chelsea may have been in the waning moments when both of their penalty appeals were wrongly denied, they were fortunate to finish with 11 men. After the referee failed to award Torres his penalty, Ramires made his way over to the man with the whistle and pushed him. Contact with the referee is a sending off each and every time and Chelsea should have been forced to finish the match down a man.
Controversy aside, Manchester United holds a 1-0 lead going back to Old Trafford and are in complete control of this Champions League tie. Should they hold on at home, United will move on to the semifinals where they will likely play Schalke, who hold a 5-2 lead going back home in their tie with Inter Milan.
Manchester United are very lucky to still have a lead, as Chelsea have been robbed of two penalty kicks in stoppage time. The first foul, when Patrice Evra took down Ramires in the box, was as stone cold a penalty as you'll ever see. There was strong contact in the box, Evra's challenge obviously made it impossible for Ramires to stay on his feed, and Ramires did not embellish the contact in the slightest. Honestly, it's probably because he felt there was no need to. It was a penalty, plain and simple. And it wasn't given.
The second call was not as obvious, but a penalty nonetheless. Rio Ferdinand made contact with Fernando Torres and caused him to lose his balance in the third minute of stoppage time, though Torres embellished the contact considerably. Honestly, the right decision in that situation is probably to give a penalty to Chelsea and a yellow card to Torres for simulation, but when have you ever seen that?
As badly as Chelsea were affected by the two missed calls, they can, at the same time, feel fortunate that they finished the match with 11 men. After the second missed call, Ramires, the victim of the first missed call, appeared to push the referee. He was not disciplined at all, when the referee probably should have shown him a red card.
Time is running out on Chelsea and now they are out of substitutions as well. Carlo Ancelotti used his final substitution to bring John Obi Mikel on for Jose Bosingwa, although there may not be enough time for the move to make its intended impact. There are under 15 minutes remaining in the Blues' first leg UEFA Champions League quarterfinal tie against Manchester United and they are trailing 1-0 despite being at home. It's hard to argue with Ancelotti using all the bullets in his gun, but it may be a case of too little too late.
With Mikel coming on for Bosingwa, Michael Essien will move to right back. The Blues will have plenty of players to go forward with now in search of an equalizer, although Ancelotti's substitutions all match have been head scratching. Bosingwa was at fault for the United goal, but he is an asset going forward. This also means that Fernando Torres will play all 90 minutes despite having zero impact on the match. Of course, that goes back to Ancelotti's prior substituionwhen he decided to bring Nicolas Anelka on for Didier Drogba instead of replacing the Spaniard.
Alex Ferguson has finally made a tactical substitution, but in somewhat surprising fashion, he has not used it to solidify his back line or bring in an extra midfielder. Instead, he's swapped two strikers, keeping his formation but not exactly making a like for like switch. Dimitar Berbatov has come on for Javier Hernandez, which to many will beg the question, who in the world is Javier Hernandez? Of course, I speak of the one known to many as only Chicharito. Unfortunately, the little pea was fairly ineffective in this game.
Berbatov is great at playing up top by himself as a partner, and his technical skill and hold-up play are his best attributes when he isn't playing selfishly, which happens from time to time. In this case, his job will probably be to help United keep the ball for as along as possible to minimize the possessions and scoring chances that Chelsea is able to create.
Fernando Torres has once again been denied a goal, but this time, he wasn't the person most to blame for his miss. In the 75th minute, a cross connected with the head of Torres who hit a looping header towards the far post. His header could have had more power, but this is nit picking. His header was good and precise, and it would have been a goal against most goalkeepers. However, Edwin van der Sar is not most goalkeepers, and he made a fantastic sprawling fingertip save.
If you didn't know, the £50m man is still without a goal for the Blues, which has spawned various joke websites such as "Has Torres Scored For Chelsea?" Somehow, despite his high volume of chances, the answer is still no. You would think it was destined to come soon, but who knows at this point. What I want to know is if that website has options like "Almost" and "Are you f--king kidding me?!?"
It might be a little late for the liking of Chelsea fans, but Carlo Ancelotti has finally made some changes in the 70th minute of the match, bringing on left winger Florent Malouda and forward Nicolas Anelka for Yuri Zhirkov and Didier Drogba in like for like changes. Chelsea's tactics seem to be working, so Ancelotti simply felt the need to replace some players with fresh legs.
The Malouda switch was an obvious one, but everyone was stunned when Didier Drogba's name and not that of Fernando Torres was called to come off for Nicolas Anelka. Drogba has been much more effective than Torres in this match, and no one was more confused at the substitution than he was. Drogba shook the hand of his manager when he came off and was not disrespectful, but still, at the same time, looked absolutely dumbfounded that he had been substituted off. Frankly, so am I.
It's the 60th minute in the UEFA Champions League game between Manchester United and Chelsea FC, and tactical changes are almost certainly looming for both teams. With an away lead and an out of position midfielder playing fullback, Alex Ferguson might be looking to sure up his defense a bit. As I mentioned earlier, Javier Hernandez seems like a prime candidate to come off, as he's made a minimal impact on the game. If United are going to start playing a long ball style, Chicharito might prove useful, but United might find a central midfielder more useful at this point.
Chelsea could be looking to make a like for like change, swapping Nicolas Anelka for Fernando Torres, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Carlo Ancelotti first introduce Florent Malouda into the game. It would also be interesting to see Josh McEachran come in as a deep lying play maker, but this occasion might be a bit too large for the young man.
Whatever moves the managers make, it should be interesting.
Manchester United right back Rafael da Silva has picked up a knee injury and has been forced out of the game, but interestingly enough, Manchester United isn't loaded at that position at the moment. As a result, they have to go makeshift, and all of the viewers of this match are wondering what's coming now that attacking winger Nani has come on for Rafael as a substitute.
Someone will have to move to right back, though it's not entirely clear who will fill that role. It could be Ryan Giggs. Though he is left footed, he's the most experienced player in the side and he did play left back on the weekend. It could be Park Ji-Sung, as he's the best defender of the players on the pitch who usually play as wide midfielders. For the moment, Antonio Valencia is the man in that position, with Nani on the left and Park switching to the right to support Valencia in defense.
Neither Chelsea or Manchester United has made any changes to start the second half of their UEFA Champions League encounter, and really, why would they? Manchester United lead for a reason, while Chelsea have actually been the better side. The one player who United could conceivably taking off soon in a tactical move is Javier Hernandez, who hasn't made that much of an impact early. Chelsea have erased him from the game for the most part, and Alex Ferguson might up to take him out and solidify his midfield.
Of course, Carlo Ancelotti will have to consider bringing Nicolas Anelka on for Fernando Torres if the Spaniard continues to be ineffective. Normally, no matter how poor a striker has been, a manager will give him a chance to find his footing early in the second half. But, if recent trends continue, don't be surprised to see Torres get removed from the game around the 60th minute.
Sir Alex Ferguson has written the script on UEFA Champions League advancement. His Manchester United teams go away in the first leg and play to a 0-0 draw before returning to Old Trafford and getting the win they need to move on. The Red Devils went off script in Wednesday's Champions League match though, going ahead of Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge through a Wayne Rooney goal.
The move for United's goal started with Michael Carrick's ball that freed Ryan Giggs on the left. Jose Bosingwa was nowhere to be found so Giggs took the ball to the end line before crossing for Rooney, who sidefooted the ball just inside the post for the goal. Rooney scoring in the Champions League quarterfinals shouldn't surprise anyone though. The goal marks the fifth consecutive year that Rooney has scored in this stage of the competition.
Although down a goal, Chelsea has been the better side in the first 45, albeit slightly. Where they weren't slightly better was the final seconds of the first half when Chelsea was peppering the goal to no avail. Fernando Torres, who has been poor, wasted an easy chance by putting the ball off the post. Frank Lampard had a ball cleared off the line and then Lampard had another great chance blocked.
Chelsea will have to consider making a halftime substitution for Torres. The Spaniard has done absolutely nothing and the Blues cannot afford to go to the second leg chasing a goal. They're going to need a tally at some point in the second half and Torres has shown nothing to hint that he can contribute to that goal.
I can't even count the number of scoring chances that Chelsea just had in a 90 second period between the 44th minute and the first half of first half stoppage time. Honestly, I completely lost track. But, I'm going to try to walk my way through them. I think that Fernando Torres had the first golden chance, as Didier Drogba put a ball on a silver platter for him, but he missed an absolute sitter off the post. The ball then fell to Frank Lampard, who had his shot barely blocked off the line by Manchester United's Patrice Evra. Less than a minute later, Lampard had another golden opportunity, which was once again blocked. I think that was it. Were there a couple more in there? Holy crap.
Chelsea have almost certainly been the better team throughout the first half of this game, save for their poor defending and United's brilliance on the one goal. There's no reason that Chelsea shouldn't be leading or at least level in this game, but alas, United have both a lead and an away goal, and therefore, a massive advantage.
If you didn't know, Chelsea FC paid a whopping £50m to Liverpool FC for striker Fernando Torres, despite the Spanish international's injury problems in the year before the sale. Since coming to Stamford Bridge, Torres has disappointed. This UEFA Champions League match against Manchester United is no exception, as Torres is playing poorly. He looks like a shell of the player that had Liverpool near the top of the table in the English Premier League and into the knockout stages of Champions League. It's early in his Chelsea career, but a lot of people think that Liverpool pulled off a great piece of business when they sold Torres. Count among those ranks the folks who run the wildly popular Liverpool fan site Empire of the Kop.
Epic swindle? What a great way to put it. Even if you don't agree, swindle is such an awesome and under-utilized word in today's society. I need to find a way to incorporate "swindle" into my daily conversations. Chelsea still trail 1-0.
Chelsea aren't a dumb team: They know that they're in a big hole, and they also know that panicking won't do them any good. As a result, they're certainly playing with urgency, but it's controlled urgency that has them keeping possession and working the ball into the Manchester United box, as opposed to pumping balls in aimlessly. Didier Drogba is the kind of player who allows them to play that strategy if it comes down to it, but for now, patience is a virtue.
However, United are obviously a very intelligent team as well, and they're fairly content to let Chelsea knock the ball around when they're 50 yards from goal. At this point, bunkering it would hardly be a bad idea for the Red Devils. A 1-1 draw in this game would make them firm favorites to advance after the return leg, while even a 2-1 loss would have them feeling like they had an excellent chance to go through.
Chelsea have probably been the slightly better team thus far in their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal matchup against Manchester United, but Manchester United have looked okay going forward. In the 24th minute, Chelsea's defense had a lapse in judgment and opened up a window for them, and they have capitalized. Wayne Rooney is the man who scored the goal, and the Red Devils are now 1-0 up. Even if Chelsea come back and take a lead, United now have the all-important away goal.
If anyone on Chelsea is to blame for the goal, it's right back Jose Bosingwa. Following a set piece opportunity, the ball was cleared out to the halfway line before Rafael restarted the attack. Michael Carrick started the real meat and potatoes of the move, switching the ball wide to Ryan Giggs, who drifted to the left flank despite starting in a central midfield role. Bosingwa was nowhere to be found as Giggs picked up the ball, dribbled to the byline, picked his head up, and squared a ball across the face of goal. The pass was perfectly placed for Wayne Rooney, who made a delayed run into the box onto the ball. He's not a man who misses open opportunities from 12 yards, and this one was no exception, as he calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net at the far post.
It's been a tough start for Chelsea FC striker Fernando Torres in the early going of his team's UEFA Champions League match against Manchester United, and no, this is not a recording. Much has been made of the struggles that Torres has had in the early going of his Chelsea career, but one has to wonder at what point he's no longer in the process of settling in and actually just not that good. Obviously, Torres has world class talent, but he's yet to show that in a Chelsea uniform.
Honestly, Torres hasn't been himself in over a year. He didn't play well for Spain at the 2010 World Cup, and he was very much up and down in the first half of this season at Liverpool. It has been a very long time since Fernando Torres was consistently world class. It's likely that he'll find his form again at some point, but in a Champions League quarterfinal, shouldn't we avoid experimenting and hoping?
It's been a physical encounter so far at Stamford Bridge, with both sets of central defenders trying to impose their will on the game. Both Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney have taken nasty spills early, but they're both back on their feet and playing just fine. Obviously, they're both great athletes and it would take something very nasty in the early going to keep them down, but there's no denying that John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, and Nemanja Vidic are tough customers who are not afraid to throw an elbow.
While the defenders are playing mind games, it's possible that the two star strikers are playing mind games of their own by milking their discomfort and making it look like they were fouled hard. Both strikers are probably trying to set up their opposing central defenders for bookings. While it's a little bit unsporting, it certainly isn't dumb. Defenders are regularly shown cards for what the referee believes to be repeated offenses.
Though their lineup has never been listed as such, longtime viewers of Manchester United will know that when they line up in a 4-4-2, their lineup is not actually that in practice. Wayne Rooney likes to drop off of his strike partner, back into midfield, and this UEFA Champions League clash against Chelsea is no different. Javier Hernandez is the man leading the line, sitting on the back shoulder of the Chelsea back line, while Wayne Rooney drops into midfield. Additionally, Ryan Giggs is almost playing as a holder and a a deep lying playmaker rather than the box to box player that usually occupies that spot in a 4-4-2. So, United kind of play a de facto 4-2-3-1.
Chelsea have been the more lively and more dangerous side early. Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba look lively, while the Blues look like a team able to keep the ball if they want to, due to their narrow midfield and their lack of ball winners. Currently, despite their lack of attacking width, they're doing a surprisingly good job of keeping United's fullbacks from attacking.
We've kicked off in the UEFA Champions League game between Manchester United and Chelsea, and the teams have indeed started the game in what appear to be 4-4-2 formations with Ryan Giggs in the center of midfield for United, though Chelsea might be going with a more narrow midfield than some first predicted. Ramires is playing inside a bit instead of as a true wide player, and it will be interesting to see how that develops over the course of the game.
Chelsea got aggressive early in the match and created a decent chance for Fernando Torres, though Jose Bosingwa's cross was expertly intercepted by Rio Ferdinand, who got fit just in time for the match.
Wayne Rooney went down hard in the second minute of the match, and he appeared to be in a great deal of pain, but it looks like he will be fine. Despite the fact that Rooney took a very long time to get up, his team made the decision to play on and attack while he was down on the ground.
If you haven't seen the Chelsea FC lineup and the Manchester United lineup for today's UEFA Champions League clash between the two sides, both Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti have elected to go with what appears to be 4-4-2 formations with flat midfields. Both teams feature a center of midfield with an attacking presence and a two-way player who will spend most of their time in a holding role. Both teams feature two strikers and two wingers...we think. Ramires could be the wild card that turns this game narrow, but based on the rest of the lineup and his play as a winger at Benfica, we could finally be seeing Ramires where so many people think he belongs - as a winger.
It's flat 4-4-2 against flat 4-4-2! Old school English battle royale! I feel like, after seeing the lineups, this match needs to be hyped like pro wrestling. I expected a boring encounter where both teams were trying to keep a clean sheet, but now that we see the likes of Chicharito out there, I THINK IT'S GONNA BE A SLOBBERKNOCKER! WAYNE ROONEY HAS A CHAIR! OH MY GOD!
In all seriousness, you need to tune into this match. If it isn't exciting, I'll eat my shorts.
Carlo Ancelotti has opted to drop French pair Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka to make room for Yuri Zhirkov and Fernando Torres on the attack. Chelsea are expected to come out in their now-standard 4-4-2 shape with a formidable (on paper, at least) strike pairing of Didier Drogba and £50M Torres, who is yet to score a goal in Chelsea colours since moving from Liverpool in the January transfer window. Yossi Benayoun also makes his first team return, earning a place on the substitute's bench after six months out with an Achilles problem.
Aside from switching the disappointing Malouda for the more defensively reliable Zhirkov, Ancelotti's midfield and defence lines up more or less as expected. With David Luiz cup-tied and Alex out of action with a knee problem, Chelsea's only available centre backs are John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, which leave Jose Bosingwa playing right back while Ashley Cole mans the left. The midfield features Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, and Ramires - they'll be hoping they can expose the relatively weak United centre through power and pace.
It's an attacking formation, though - clearly Ancelotti disagrees with those claiming that the game is going to be a dull one.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Jose Bosingwa; Yuri Zhirkov, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Ramires; Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres.
Substitutes: Ross Turnbull, Yossi Benayoun, John Obi Mikel, Florent Malouda, Paulo Ferreira, Salomon Kalou, Nicolas Anelka.
There's no place for Nani, Paul Scholes, or hitman Dimitar Berbatov as Manchester United travel to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie. Instead, Sir Alex Ferguson has opted to reinforce his centre by committing Park Ji-Sung to the fray alongside Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick - the Korean should provide some width on the attack while moving inside to help Giggs and Carrick defensively.
Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez retains his spot in the starting XI, paired alongside England striker Wayne Rooney, with top scorer Dimitar Berbatov having to setting for a spot on the bench. Defensively, United are bolstered by the return of former England captain Rio Ferdinand, and Ferguson will get to deploy his first-choice centre back pairing for the first time since late January.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Edwin van der Sar; Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Rafael da Silva; Park Ji-Sung, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia; Wayne Rooney, Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez.
Substitutes: Tomasz Kuszczak, Dimitar Berbatov, Chris Smalling, Nani, Darron Gibson, Paul Scholes, Johnny Evans.
Alex Ferguson is well noted as the best in the business when it comes to playing mind games with his fellow managers. He's great at talking to the media and getting them to spin stories to his liking, as well as tricking his opponents into thinking a certain way. While there is often a direct intent and some serious skill involved in Ferguson's games, he really has become a cult of personality at this point. Even when he's not trying he's playing mind games, and sometimes silence is his best weapon.
Right now, it's unlikely that Carlo Ancelotti knows how Ferguson is going to set up his team. He's an intelligent man and a good manager, so I'm sure he can come up with a very good guess, but the Manchester United squad, along with Ferguson's willingness to change his team on a regular basis always keeps people thinking. I've gone through Ferguson's team selection over and over in my head and I can't settle on anything. It's possible (read: very likely) that Ancelotti has a better idea than I do, but it's also possible that he's clueless.
The implication there is not that Ancelotti is a clueless manager, but that it's not easy to get a grasp of what Ferguson is going to do from game to game. There are any number of approaches he could take and any number of players he could pick. On multiple occasions, he's gone with a 4-4-2 setup when we were fairly certain he would go with one central striker, and on just as many occasions, he's gone to a 4-5-1 with Park Ji-Sung on the wing when we were sure he would attack.
I think that Ferguson is going to play for a draw with Park and Antonio Valencia on either side of Wayne Rooney, leaving Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez, Nani, and one of either Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs on the bench. I wouldn't be surprised to see him do something entirely different. How about starting Berbatov up front and Rooney on the left? What about moving Nani over to the left and going for the jugular? Maybe Park should play on the right because Rafael needs more support in defense than Patrice Evra. And he wouldn't play 4-4-2, would he?
This is what Ferguson does to people. Hopefully for Chelsea fans, Carlo Ancelotti is a hell of a lot smarter than I am.
Although England midfielder Frank Lampard was in the Chelsea side that lost on penalties to Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final, his thoughts are more on winning the quarter-final clash against that same opposition rather than attempting to exact revenge. Lampard, who scored Chelsea's equalising goal in Moscow before captain John Terry missed what would have been the winning penalty, said that he'd been with the team long enough to recognise that ups and downs are a natural part of playing the game:
I really promise you, revenge certainly isn't in our minds. When you play for a long period of time, as I have here, you see the ups and downs. You collect them.
You don't any feel thoughts of revenge or anything against anyone. You understand you can't always be successful and win.
There's no point being negative and crying about them - they're all experiences. We hope that one day we'll have one huge positive experience that will make all the other ones easily forgotten.
When asked to comment about whether revenge was on his mind, Terry began frothing at the mouth and speaking the Forbidden Words that will summon the Demons From Dark Places to destroy mankind.
Volatile England striker Wayne Rooney was a conspicuous absence for Manchester United as the squad trained on Tuesday, but Sir Alex Ferguson is 'sure' that the striker will be fit for the Champions League quarter-final match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. In addition to the badly bruised shin that kept him out of practice, Rooney is also having to navigate an FA disciplinary hearing after being charged with using offensive language by English football's governing body - he has been suspended for two matches after swearing at a camera during his side's win over West Ham United and is appealing the length of the sentence.
However, unless he's actually unfit, that's probably more bad news than good for the home side, who will be desperately hoping that Rooney is nowhere near his vicious best against them. And since the 24 year-old appears to thrive on some combination of anger and bloody-minded defiance, events of the past week are probably going to put him in exactly the right frame of mind for the game, at least as far as United are concerned.
Manchester United left back Patrice Evra is noted as one of the best in the business at left back. Both defending and going forward, but especially going forward. The French international has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the years and is now considered by just about anyone to be world class. Rafael da Silva is likely to start at right back for United, meaning that Chelsea FC have to be seriously concerned with the threat that their opponent's fullbacks pose to them going forward and providing United with width.
That's why Graham MacAree at SB Nation's Chelsea FC blog, We Ain't Got No History urges that Carlo Ancelotti doesn't fall into the trap of going back to his narrow 4-4-2 diamond formation. When Chelsea play in their 4-3-3 setup, the wide forwards in that setup force opposing fullbacks to choose their forward runs wisely. In Graham's opinion, using those wide players to keep Manchester United's fullbacks at bay is key.
With Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres both available and and their best in the centre, Ancelotti will be tempted to shoehorn them into a two-striker formation. That could be a mistake unless he's very careful to keep the wide players wide in order to pin back both Patrice Evra and Rafael de Silva - if they're not contained we'll get two on one overloads between United's wingers and Chelsea's fullbacks, and while Ashley Cole might be able to deal with that Jose Bosingwa almost certainly will not.
It's debatable that the narrow diamond allows Chelsea to pick their best team (though I would disagree), but it's certainly not debatable that the narrow diamond setup, unless done in an unorthodox way, could allow United's fullbacks to have a seriously large influence on the game. For that reason, a 4-3-3 formation with some width - which is what Graham advocates in his piece - is Chelsea's best bet on Wednesday.
Teams rarely succeed in pinning back Evra and Rafael, but if the wide forwards of Chelsea accomplish this - provided they actually play wide forwards - it would go a very long way towards securing a positive result for the Blues.
If you're expecting an anti-climatic game when Chelsea meet Manchester United during Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final, you're not alone. The two sides are too evenly matched to produced the kind of slaughter we saw on Tuesdays games, which ended 4-0 and 5-2, and with Inter Milan out of the picture the road to the final for whoever ends up winning the clash will be wide open.
Therefore, each team will be doing their gosh-darned best not to lose, a feat which Manchester United haven't really managed too often at Stamford Bridge over the last few years. Although Gene Um of SB Nation's Manchester United blog The Busby Babe has done his best to highlight most of the key battles in his excellent tactical preview of the match, he too thinks that it will ultimately be a fairly boring affair - although he'd quite like to come away from London with a draw if that also meant United emerged with an away goal or two.
I expect a relatively dull game. I think Chelsea will be focused on preventing as many away goals as possible and I think United will be very happy if they can leave the Bridge with a draw. Chelsea likely would be content with a 0-0 draw and United would likely be thrilled if they earned a 2-2 draw.
He probably isn't wrong. The last time these two sides met in Europe was a tense encounter that ended at 1-1 after ninety minutes and extra time, ultimately going to penalties where United won after a famous slip by Chelsea captain John Terry, and although there've been some famous shootouts between English sides in the Champions League over the years, it's not very often that such evenly matched teams produce memorable games. If you're expecting a classic, you may want to look elsewhere.
Once a staple of the UEFA Champions League semifinals, the competition has been secretly re-organized and rigged to make sure that the all-English tie or ties happens in the quarterfinals. Okay, not really, but based on recent history it does seem a little early for a meeting between Chelsea FC and Manchester United. Both teams have failed to look like powerhouses over the last two seasons, both domestically and on the continent, but there's no arguing that they're two of the best teams in the world and that they should put together a great tie over two legs.
Chelsea are a relatively injury free team, while Manchester United are not a healthy team. A variety of players are questionable for the game and not yet confirmed as able to start or not able to start, so the United injury report has more questions than answers. Alex Ferguson is a master of adjusting his tactics to suit the players that he has available to him when he has injury problems, but the likely absence of Darren Fletcher limits Ferguson's tactical options considerably.
Interestingly enough, Fletcher is not injured, but instead has been very ill with a virus. Rumors have swirled that Fletcher has had to deal with serious weight loss problems and a lack of energy as a result of the virus, but what matters most is that he did not train on Tuesday. If he didn't train on Tuesday, he is almost certainly not available for selection.
There are also questions about Rafael and Rio Ferdinand, but both were able to train on Tuesday. With John O'Shea out, Rafael will likely start, while Ferdinand is still thought to be a game-time decision.
If you like changing formations and team selection mind games, then this is the tie for you. Both Chelsea and United use different variations on 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, with the personnel changing based on fit players, team goals, and opponent. United are definitely the more willing of the two teams to go defensive if it suits them, as Alex Ferguson has shown on multiple occasions that he's not afraid to turn that 4-3-3 into a 4-5-1, play a rigid game, and try for a 0-0 draw. It wouldn't be the least bit shocking to see him do just that at Stamford Bridge.
When trying to figure out what Ferguson's intentions are from the start, look no further than who he plays on the left wing, if the team does indeed go with one man up top. If Wayne Rooney plays on the left hand side of either Dimitar Berbatov or Javier Hernandez, or if Nani starts to the left of Rooney. If Park Ji-Sung plays in that spot, Ferguson is likely thinking defense first. If Ryan Giggs makes a surprise start in that spot, don't bother trying to guess what Ferguson is thinking.
Chelsea look to be making a return to the 4-3-3 after long time use of a narrow 4-4-2 diamond, with Nicolas Anelka being sacrificed for a three man front line of Florent Malouda, Fernando Torres, and Didier Drogba, though there are those who think Yuri Zhirkov will start in Malouda's place. Fans seemed to have conflicting opinions about whether or not Torres's benching over the weekend was about resting him for Champions League or benching him due to a lack of goals. I'm leaning towards the former, but we'll find out tomorrow when Ancelotti puts out his team sheet.
The match kicks off at 7:45 pm GMT (2:45 pm ET) on Wednesday from Stamford Bridge, and we'll know an hour before that who Ferguson and Ancelotti have selected. A clean sheet should probably be priority No. 1 for the Blues, and we'll soon find out whether or not Ancelotti agrees.
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