Match Preview: Chelsea vs. Manchester United


By Sleepy

Manchester United’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening holds significance in terms of the title race for the away side only, as Chelsea are in danger of ending the game closer to the bottom of the table than the top. Some would argue that the predicament is entirely self-inflicted however as Chelsea and Abramovich sought to cancel the original fixture in December more than 24 hours before the scheduled kick-off time, after a sprinkling of snow and a cancelled game at the Emirates the day before – astutely aware of Man United’s momentum at the time after a crushing victory at home to Blackburn and a dominant 1-0 performance at home Arsenal.

Nearly three months on then, and Chelsea have self-imploded, leaving the door open for United. It is interesting from a psychological perspective to try and pinpoint the key catalyst for Chelsea’s demise; The answers usually proffered are the departure of Wilkins or the fact that Chelsea’s squad is in need of an overhaul – but perhaps it was simply down to the fact that they took success for granted after a fantastic double winning season; I can’t be alone in thinking Ancelotti (and key players such as Terry, Drogba and Lampard) took his eyes off the ball when he was celebrating without restraint on the open-top bus back in June 2010; (For sure, one can’t quite see Sir Alex singing “That’s Amore” so imprudently whilst sipping Champagne …).

Tactics: The game could be won from wide

Chelsea vs. Manchester United Formation

Probable United Starting Lineup (4-4-1-1 v 4-4-1-1))

Credit: This11

The game is typically fought between two variations of 4-2-3-1 though Tuesday’s game may well see two variations of 4-4-2 if both managers are to take the game to the opposition and seek to catch the other ‘off-guard’. Ancelotti has struggled to integrate Torres with Drogba and Anelka in the same team, but has recently had some success with Anelka and Torres interchanging as part of a front two. It would be a bold move to drop ‘big game’ player Drogba, but could improve the fluency of the side in doing so.

Ancelotti also has the dilemma of who to select as his fourth midfielder; whilst Mikel started the season in fantastic form, he has faded of late as Ramires has gradually embedded himself to the English game. If Chelsea do indeed deploy a 4-4-2, Ramires could be used in a central-right position in much the same way he was deployed versus FC Copenhagen. Ivanovic then will be tasked with supporting him on the overlap, as Ramires will seek to drag both Giggs and Evra out of position.

Likewise Fergie will be pondering over his attacking options after Rooney was luckily reprieved by a loophole in FA rules, for an intentional elbow aimed at McCarthy on Saturday; Berbatov was seemingly rested versus Wigan, which could signal Fergie’s intent to field both strikers in a typical 4-4-1-1, with Rooney dropping the deeper of the two and aiding the midfield with the defensive duties.

United have one defensive selection dilemma, which is at right back where Rafael will be hoping for a recall in place of the in-form O’Shea. Given the likelihood of Malouda reverting to a traditional wide left role, his attacking play in tandem with Cole could provide United’s greatest test to date. Aside from the City game, Rafael has featured in all the ‘big games’ this season and has performed remarkably well, yet O’Shea has recently come back into the team and has surprised many with his assured performances.

Rafael & O'Shea Tackles

O’Shea 65 passes / Rafael 11 tackles (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

In essence, Fergie is left to ponder what would seem a slightly paradoxical scenario: Given O’Shea’s attacking intent in recent games (see chalkboard for comparison to Rafael), and the Brazilian’s largely underrated defensive acumen this season (11 attempted tackles at Tottenham in only 49 minutes!), does he seek to push Cole back or keep a tight defensive line, and which player would be most suited to the role identified? Im going for a surprise return for Rafael given his excellent performances versus Nasri and Bale this season, where he used the ploy of denying the opponent space by ‘hitting’ the player early; and as highlighted in the chalkboard versus Sunderland, his ability to keep his defensive position extremely well, and track the overlapping fullback as required could be crucial.

Rafael Passing vs. Sunderland

Rafael’s Passing vs. Sunderland (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

On the left hand side, both Patrice Evra and Ashley Cole – arguably the world’s finest two left backs of the last 5 years – could also play a defining role in determining the outcome of this game, yet with slightly different approaches; The chalkboard highlights the very different areas of the field in which each fullback seeks to operate; In Cole we have the quintessential attacking fullback who seeks to join the attack at every given opportunity, and is particularly astute at timing his runs beyond the opposition right back and hitting the byline, or even inverting his run towards the penalty area.

Evra, whilst very adept at providing the attacking thrust in tandem with the left winger, operates slightly further back where is strength in the tackle and reading of the game is ustilised to maximum effect as he is more of a move initiator than Cole. The Frenchman is at his best just approaching the final third of the pitch where he seeks to engage the central midfielders and false 9 role of the team. Evra will be wary of the intelligent movement of both Anelka and Malouda who will work across the width of the pitch in support of Torres at times.

Evra & Cole Passes

Evra v Cole: Similar passing stats, different approach (click to enlarge)

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

In Darren Fletcher and Michael Essien, we had arguably the two form central midfielders of last season coming head to head, but this season has seen the two players struggle to rekindle their fine form. Their battle in midfield could be a decisive factor, not least because it will be their harrying and passing the ball out to wide positions which could influence the game.

In Summary

Both sets of fullbacks could provide the answer in what should be a tightly fought affair. The onus will be on the likes of veterans Scholes and Lampard to spread the play as early as possible, and their subsequent runs from deep could prove prosperous as both players will take it in turns with their midfield partners to hit the box. Whilst United haven’t been at their sterling best this season, they have remained solid, and crucially, fully focused on regaining their title; Despite the influence of the impetuous Abramovich, the same cant be said for Chelsea, and in particular their manager who has failed to rejuvenate the team and squad after last season’s success.

Referee: Martin Atkinson – arguably the second best referee in the UK –despite wrongly awarding a freekick against Darren Fletcher which led to the winning Chelsea goal in the corresponding fixture last season.

Highlights: Correctly showing both Rodallega and Jermain Defoe the red card in both the United v Wigan and Aston Villa v Tottenham fixtures respectively.

Lowlights: Missing the Nigel De Jong bone-crunching tackle in the Man City v Newcastle game and blowing the full-time whistle as Everton were on the counter attack in the final third versus United at Goodison.

Prediction: United are great value at 11/4 to claim their first victory here since 2002. It will be closely contested but I’m going for 2-1 victory for the reds, Rooney and Giggs the scorers.

Read the thoughts of Chelsea fans here: OSoC: Chelsea Fans on Torres and Failure To Qualify For Champions League
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  1. Sudheesh Marar on

    Great Preview,but i dont think Sir Alex will go for a 4-4-2, as he rarely does that these days especially in away games in big games,I am expecting a 4-5-1/4-3-3 tonite,with Giggs,Rooney and Nani playing as the front 3, Berbatov might have to be content with a place on the bench,as far back 4 is concerned, i think Sir Alex will continue to play O’shea as RB until Rio is back,Smalling has been brilliant so far,and i think much of it has to do with the fact that he has been playing along 3 experienced defenders. I dont think there will be many goals in this game,so i wud say a 0-1 victory for us,with goal coming in the second half. cheers

  2. Sudheesh

    Thanks – and totally understand the logic in your argument. After all, those were my very first thought when approaching this game too, but just feel there is a twist up Fergie’s sleeve with this game and his use of Rafael and Berbatov of late has been ‘significant’ IMO. I have only ever predicted a 4-4-2 in a ‘big game’ before now, and luckily my suspicions were proven correct, via Spurs away.

    Not a great chance of it happening tonight, but a chance nonetheless, with SAF fully aware of the recent success Carlos has had with Torres-Anelka….


  4. Sudheesh Marar on

    Nik, I agree with you on Fergie’s use of Rafa n Berba,but do you think with Liverpool game coming up next Sir Alex will take the chance and go with 4-4-2 from start itself? i can see him going 4-4-2 if the score remains 0-0 in the second half 🙂

  5. I agree with 442 shout but can’t see Giggs starting ahead of Carrick. We paid for his absence in the first half vs City and he is crucial to commanding the area Anelka will look to roam. I also think A Cole’s record vs our creative wingers should lead to Nani deployed on the left and the industrious Fletcher on the right able to support the central pair and support Rafael effectively against Cole and Malouda. A win would be massive whereas a defeat would not dent our hopes too badly – 442 would be a great signal of intent. Chicharito winner off the bench to secure a 2-1 win!

  6. Cheers Tom, Giggs could quite easily start alongside Carrick actually, depending on whether he takes the risk with 4-4-2. Giggs has been deployed at the tip of the diamond versus Chelsea before, with Carrick and Fletcher behind; With Scholes starting at the weekend, I wouldnt be at all surprised if the Welshman is selected ahead of the ginger prince. Think we need Fletcher’s harrying qualities in the middle tonight, denying Lampard and the roaming Malouda space. Chica’s impact off the bench cant be overlooked, though it was interesting to see how he combined in a rare appearance alongside Rooney on Saturday; Fergie could yet surprise us all….! 🙂

  7. Jason Freeman on

    Hadn’t paid too much attention to Chelsea recently so my initial thought was to go 4-5-1. Hearing that Chelsea are likely to go 4-4-2 so I changed my mind slightly then and then I was reminded that Sunderland went 4-4-2 at Stamford Bridge and won 3-0. We’ve been playing better when playing 4-4-2. I think everyone would love our 2 top goalscorers starting but Chicha off the bench is more likely.

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