Preview: English Champions League, 1st Leg

Chelsea vs Manchester United (1st Leg)
Quarter-Finals, UEFA Champions League
Stamford Bridge, London
Wednesday, 6th April 2011
18:45 GMT (20:45 CET)

This was the quarter-final that neither team wanted but Chelsea can at least lay to rest the ghosts from the last time the two sides met in Europe – the 2008 final. That night, John Terry and Nicolas Anelka missed from the spot as United won the shootout. So revenge will be on the menu at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. After a wretched spell, Chelsea have enjoyed a revival in recent weeks, in part thanks to the energy and drive of centre-back David Luiz, who joined the club from Benfica in January. The draw at Stoke all but ended the club’s title challenge as they fell 11 points off the pace, however there was encouragement in the lively display from Didier Drogba which in turn casts doubt over Fernando Torres’ role against United.

In Europe, the Blues have coasted through to the last eight without ever truly being challenged. FC Copenhagen were brushed aside in the last round, courtesy of a strong away performance in Denmark, after Carlo Ancelotti’s men had cruised to top spot in Group F. The Italian knows his players will face a tougher test in this tie, but relishes the challenge. He explained, “I’d be less excited if I felt my team weren’t in good form, with good motivation, but they are motivated and confident. I think I’m better under pressure. If I’m too relaxed, it’s not good.”

Sir Alex Ferguson has been forced to defend the quality of his squad on numerous occasions this season – after all, United have been gritty rather than breathtaking in their pursuit of silverware. But it is hard to argue with Ferguson, given that his side is seeking a third Champions League final in four years. So far, so good – but significant improvement is required. To say that United were unconvincing in the previous round against Marseille would be an understatement and question marks remain over the potency of the front line – it will still take a talented side to eliminate the Red Devils over two legs though.

In the Premier League, United have bounced back from successive defeats at Chelsea and Liverpool to extend their lead at the top of the table. Defensive injuries have left the Old Trafford outfit short of options at the back, but the international break fell at the perfect moment for Ferguson. Most encouraging of all, Wayne Rooney’s hat-trick at West Ham on Saturday should provide real momentum.

And, of course, Ferguson has wasted little time in engaging in mind games. “Everyone recognises the last four games, the major decisions have gone their way. We beat them in the European final, we were the better team in that final. We were the better team a few weeks ago at Chelsea. We have the quality, there is no question about that,” he said of the Blues at the weekend.

Chelsea's Recent Form:
Chelsea 0-0 FC Copenhagen (16th February, UEFA Champions League)
Chelsea 2-0 Manchester City (20th March, English Premier League)
Stoke 1-1 Chelsea (2nd April, English Premier League)

Manchester United Recent Form:
Manchester United 2-1 Marseille (15th March, UEFA Champions League)
Manchester United 1-0 Bolton (19th March, English Premier League)
West Ham 2-4 Manchester United (02/04; Premier League)

Key Absentees:
Chelsea - Alex, Yossi Benayoun
Manchester United - Rio Ferdinand (doubt), Anderson (doubt), Darren Fletcher, John O’Shea, Rafael Da Silva, Wes Brown

Players To Watch

Chelsea – Frank Lampard: Given his track record of scoring against United, look for Lampard to have an influential night. United are under-manned in midfield, which should help the England midfielder set the tempo for Chelsea and make his customary late runs into the box. If he gets the nod from Ancelotti, Didier Drogba will give the inexperienced Chris Smalling a real test.

Manchester United – Wayne Rooney: The striker that grabbed all the headlines at the weekend by spearheading United’s comeback at Upton Park should have sent shockwaves around Stamford Bridge. Rooney looks sharp and motivated and is bubbling with confidence, making him the obvious danger man in red at Stamford Bridge. With Darren Fletcher out, Michael Carrick must take the lead in midfield and take his game to a higher level to contain Chelsea’s strength in the centre of the pitch.

Match Prediction

The onus will be on Chelsea to fire on all cylinders and earn an advantage to take to Old Trafford and that could open the game up. In the recent league contest, the Blues seemed to have the greater stamina as United began brightly but faded. Expect Ferguson’s side to play largely on the counter attack again, with Nani and Antonio Valencia supplying Rooney. The Blues will be out to make amends for Moscow, however, buoyed by the comeback at West Ham, United should at least secure a priceless away goal.

Related Article:
UCL 2010/11: Assessing The 8 Quarterfinalists

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