Shaun will be along later for the live commentary.
For now, the tactical preview.
Your undercard? Well that would be….Barcelona vs. Shakhtar Donetsk? Ah yes, after the Catalans thrashing of the Ukrainian side last week, advancement for Iniesta, Messi and company is all but assured.
The Peppy men would need to lose by the exact score of 4-0 (an away goal by Barca ratchets that home side goal number up) to be knocked out in the knockouts.
Let’s move on.
Now for the Main Event: Manchester United vs. Chelsea
Antonio Valencia is back.
Fernando Torres still has not scored.
Manchester United have yet to lose at home this season.
Much of this does not bode well for Chelsea.
That said, Champion’s League affairs–familiar with the opponent or not–don’t always hold serve.
The story in this one? The midfield of course.
Last week saw two unorthodox midfields for both sides. United had Ryan Giggs moved centrally, while Chelsea choose to deploy Yuri Zhirkov instead of Florent Malouda on the outside. (Florent Malouda must be pouting in the locker room or something because good form or not, I’m not sure how he’s not an automatic on the team sheet.)
The effect of the midfields was nearly a canceling out with the exception of Wayne Rooney, who was given a license to roam about the midfield, defend there, pick-up the ball here and generally cause havoc.
Rooney earned plaudits for his efforts, but consider this: While it needs to be a special player that is allowed to roam, shouldn’t that player be the difference maker, free of offensive positional discipline and a secondary defensive asset. I say yes. Would Steven Gerrard be the player?….okay moving on again.
Chelsea remained in a static 4-4-2 until halfway through the 2nd half and it’s lack of definition hurt their attack. Once again Chelsea was unable to discover their working #10 on offense.
If Jens Lehman can play for Arsenal again, couldn’t Chelsea have suited up Deco or god forbid Adrian Mutu down the stretch here?
On defense, the slowing Frank Lampard often looked lethargic and indecisive in defense and the former West Ham man was also hesitant going forward on offense.
With Sir Alex’s side in their home lair and Chelsea needing at least an away goal to make it series, what will be in store today?
Look for Chelsea to nudge a little more into a “sort-of” 4-3-3 likely with Nicolas Anelka up top because of his ability to drop deep or using the post-up moves of Didier Drogba.
Fernando Torres plays off him more as a right forward. Florent Malouda complements to the left.
Behind the forward curtain is the pinched-in Frank Lampard pairing with the box-to-box play of Ramires with Essien as the holder. You may see Ramires and Essien switch in this game (or John Obi Mikel for Ramires with Essien taking the Brazilian’s spot). The midfield will be key and Ancelotti needs to get it right.
As for Manchester United, I think you’ll see the customary defensive posture from the Scottish skipper. Jack-of-trades Darren Fletcher is still out, and Ferguson may choose to deploy Ji-Sung Park to help out Rafael who is just making his way back into the side; or he may go with Antonio Valencia to keep Alex Cole pinned back. The Malouda-Rafael match-up is one the Blues will want to exploit and Ferguson’s balance of postures on that side may be the key to the match.
The backline fills out like it always does with Evra, Nemanja Vidic (who deserves more than cursory mention in player of the campaign discussions) and Piers Morgan’s buddy Rio Ferdinand.
In front of Manchester United’s defensive curtain goes a 2-3-1. Michael Carrick will be called on to provide cover for Rafael on the right, while Paul Scholes will be the distributor on the left. Ahead of this, Rooney drops a little deeper. He’s flanked by Nani on the left and (the big question) either Ji-Sung Park on the right or, if Sir Alex is feeling it, Antonio Valencia. Hard for me to see both Valencia and Nani playing, so if the selection is Nani, Park may be flipped to the other side.
Ahead are the runs of Javier Hernandez keeping Chelsea’s central defenders occupied.
Manchester United will look to play long to the flanks, more as a defensive mechanism to keep Chelsea pinned in and challenge them to work up the field. Chelsea will look to exploit Florent Malouda or a quick switch to Torres who may get a fair amount of 1-on-1 chances versus Evra.
Very interesting and the best fare of the the four Champion’s League games this week.