Chelsea v Utd: How Do They Measure Up?

As the ‘Big One’ gets nearer, obviously talk in the press of who’ll come out on top and why goes into overdrive. Personally, I haven’t tried to think too hard about this one, I’m still trying to get my head round actually making it to the final in the first place if I’m honest. Not that I don’t think we deserve to be in the final now. Maybe we were fortunate to get through some of the earlier games, as easy as they appeared on paper, but I’d like to think we made up for them in the away tie to Valencia and at home to Liverpool.  In fact, whereas I maintained my stance about not really deserving the title this season, I haven’t felt quite the same about our position in the Champions League.

As poor as our form has been at times, we’ve still done what we needed to when it mattered in Europe, and in knockout competitions that’s what it’s all about. Contrary to Rafa’s claims, we haven’t been aided and abetted by officials, we haven’t had a disproportionate amount of good fortune and apart from a helping head from Riise, what we’ve done in Europe, we’ve done the Chelsea way. And by that I mean, we might have made hard work of it at times, but we’ve dug in deep, even managed to play a bit when we had to and we’ve got there. So, as far as Moscow goes, we’re on a level playing field with our opponents. Or are we?

In April, we took 3 points off Utd at Stamford Bridge and although I’ve already acknowledged this was against a slightly weaker side than they’d usually put out, it certainly gave us a bit of a boost. Then again, it didn’t appear to have damaged them too much – or at least they didn’t look too traumatised when lifting the Premier League trophy. So the psychological impact either of these two events will have in a one-off game is probably negligible.

So if you take everything Rafa has previously said out of the equation – and I certainly hope the ref doesn’t have the greatest influence in this game considering this particular ref doesn’t even recognise a goal when he sees one (or not as the case may be) – then it’s down to individual players, with maybe the odd moment of brilliance thrown in.

But where will that brilliance come from and who’s likely to have the biggest impact on the game?

KEY PLAYERS

Provided he turns up with his Chelsea head on for the night and stays on his feet, Didier Drogba could give them a bit of a torrid time. Certainly not one of his better seasons, the odd niggling injury and ACON have rendered him lifeless at times and his tendency to act out dramatic scenes from Platoon at will haven’t helped his game much. But, on the occasions he has turned up – generally the big occasions – he’s left defences unarmed against his attacks.

Certainly, if Drogba’s on his game, he’s a handful for even the best defenders, so Utd could appreciate the Nemanja VidicRio Ferdinand partnership more than ever here. And whether it is the effect of this particular partnership or not, there’s no question this season has seen Ferdinand prove he’s a worthy successor for the Utd captaincy. His ability to anticipate will surely be called upon against one of the most complete centre forwards going and his pace won’t go amiss either. This particular battle’s a tough one to call.

For Utd, to his impression of a sully toddler, complete with stamping feet and raised eyebrows, Cristiano Ronaldo’s now added something which provides much more of a challenge than a kid full of E numbers – maturity. The rate at which his game continues to improve is frightening and short of tying his laces together, its hard to know how to nullify this constant thorn in any defence’s side. The flicks and tricks are still there for the pundits to drool over but sadly for us, they’re finished off nicely with an end product. And with him turning up whatever the occasion these days, our defence could be in for a rough ride.

In the past, this hasn’t been such a tough task, as Ashley Cole’s pockets were plenty deep enough to keep the Portu-geezer quiet, but despite signs of improvement in his own game this term, Cole’s temperament has a tendency to let him down. Where Ronaldo’s kept his tantrums pretty much in check, with only the odd request to have his personal space protected, so Cole’s petulance has been all too evident as his behaviour on the pitch does nothing to endear him to the watching world. If he lets himself get wound up in this one, Cole could be left well and truly on his arse.

On the subject of dodgy temperaments at Chelsea, John Terry’s pushed his luck with officials to extremes at times this season. His desire to win at all costs no doubt coupled with sheer frustration as boardroom events saw us all but written off in September, had the captain losing both his head and his discipline. However, recent games have seen our captain regain his composure and demand the same from the side he leads with a traditionally English never-say-die attitude. He may well have been stretchered off in his last game, but I’ve no doubts at all we’ll see the usual blood and thunder performance from our very own Captain Courageous as he heads the patrol in front of Cech.

Trying to force his way past Terry no doubt will be, in my opinion Utd’s most important player – Wayne Rooney. His impact on a game might not be apparent to those who judge a performance solely on goals scored but his contribution to any Utd performance, both physical and psychological makes him a ‘must play’. The sort of spirit he embodies in the side, married with his vision, touch and movement, must make him a right pain in the arse to play against.  

Just as well then, that JT won’t have to deal with Rooney on his own. Alongside the captain in defence is one of my candidates for player of the season and certainly our best defender right now, in Ricardo Carvalho. With Terry’s increasing susceptibility to injury’s over the past two seasons, Ricky’s truly come out of the captain’s shadow to establish himself as one of our ‘untouchables’. Let’s just hope he’s not feeling as benevolent as the last time he was up against Rooney!

On the subject of consistency over the course of a season, maybe surprisingly and even unnoticed by neutrals, is one of Utd’s better players this season – Patrice Evra. The Utd left-back has certainly encompassed precision and pace both offensively and defensively throughout a very solid season and his sometimes subtle contribution could see his ‘unsung’ status elevated to recognition on the bigger stage if we’re not careful.

Finishing off defensive players – or not, depending on Grant’s selection – could be Michael Essien. After a really poor start to the season by the midfielder’s standards and some fairly tepid performances mid-season, Essien seems to be finishing with a flourish of conserved energy. Sadly, whilst an absolute monster of a player in midfield, he still spends way too much time slotting in at right-back. The position he’s given in this one could have a bearing on his impact on the game.

Whilst some might point to Lampard following his emotional and to be fair to him, pretty brave display against Liverpool, his inconsistent season has seen him become less of a key player for me. Instead, in terms of potential to influence this particular game, I’d have to go for Michael Ballack. After a less than impressive start for Chelsea, spent strutting around in slow motion, Ballack’s won the majority of us over this season as his performances have increasingly impressed. This bloke’s got proper bottle and the bigger the game, the better. Originally thought to be brought in for our European endeavours, Ballack could continue to show us why on Wednesday.

Another player with a fairly quiet start at his new club is Carlos Tevez. But unlike our German, it took this little Argentine a lot less time to show what a shrewd addition he is to any squad. I’m sure Utd fans adore him already, but I very much doubt defences feel the same way. Even when he looks like he’s having a quiet game, and all eyes are on Ronaldo showboating, you just know the little man can pop up from that blade of grass he’s been hiding behind and sneak one in.

For that reason, the once impenetrable Petr Cech will need to have eyes up his arse against Utd’s constant threat. He can’t afford any of the unforced errors that’ve crept into his game on occasion this season. If he’s going to keep Utd out, Cech will need a performance reminiscent of the days we hailed him ‘the best keeper in the world’. As for Van Der Sar, I hope he has a nightmare and that maybe our own little pocket rocket, in the shape of Joe Cole might stop trying too hard and get back to adding his own little bit of magic to the proceedings.

FERGIE v GRANT

Well, Fergie’s been with Utd almost since the game was invented, with an average haul of almost a trophy a season on top of 10 Premier League titles. Grant, on the other hand, has been hanging around the dugout around 7 months and has so far managed to get us to our first Champions League final – oh and lost the League Cup to Spurs and the title to Utd along the way. Fergie’s adored by his own, admired by neutrals and loathed by everyone else, whilst Grant is……..usually laughed at. Where Fergie is the master of mind games, perfected over a 22-year reign, Grant clearly needs ‘L’ plates and a boundaried script to answer the simplest of questions.

THE BIG STAGE

Fergie hasn’t done as well here as he has domestically and would dearly love to add to their 1999 victory over Bayern Munich. Grant, was in charge of the first Israeli side to make the Champions League, but surprisingly, didn’t take the trophy home with him. To be fair though, he did break Liverpool’s curse over us in Europe and is taking us to the first Champions League final in Chelsea’s history, so I’ll concede that one as gracefully as I can.

PRETTY v UGLY

There’s no question about it, Utd’s goal difference in the Premier League has shown they’ve been better than us both in attack and defence consistently and they’re hardly shoddy in Europe either. And love him or hate him, you can’t argue that this is down to Fergie’s ability to put together a side capable of winning whilst at the same time entertaining. As much as it pains me to admit it, he just gets it right, be it age, experience, home-grown or brought in, the mix is there – and these individuals become a unit on the field. Grant, on the other hand, has changed very little, if anything and we remain as resilient and effective but ultimately as dull as if TSO had never left. Looks like we’ll have to rely on sheer grit and determination again then.

PREDICTION

Enjoy the fact we’ve made it there in the first place, cross our fingers and pray like hell!

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