After a dramatic turn of events in the English Premier League last weekend, the league title is hanging in the balance and there is one game that could change it all. Having received some dubious calls, Chelsea claimed a helping hand in gaining 3 points against a desperately unlucky Tottenham Hotspur side. Manchester United, on the other hand, were exceptionally poor under pressure and fell to Arsenal, who played without fear.
United's fall has knocked the door open for Chelsea, who have climbed, what looked to be, an insurmountable gap only a month or so ago, to be in a position where they are able to capitalise on any slip ups from the league leaders. Similarly to when these two teams met in the champions league quarter final, Chelsea go to Old Trafford with only a win in mind, and most probably only a win that is enough to make this latest charge mean something.
Carlo Ancellotti has some interesting selection dilemmas ahead of him here. In the quarter final, he chose wrong, something that he admitted immediately after. He chose Fernando Torres over Didier Drogba. But once again, the same scenario is thrust upon the Italian tactician, does he dare defy his paymaster and leave their prized, £50 million striker on the bench in such an important game; or will he go with the tried and tested Drogba, who has two goals in his last two games at Old Trafford.
Ferguson looks to have a somewhat easier time of picking his team at present. Judging by the shadow side he fielded against Schalke in midweek, you can more or less ascertain what players will be lining up against Chelsea. Javier Hernandez has exceeded all expectations upon his arrival at Manchester United, and it is testament to this fact that he is expected to be in the starting lineup for one of the biggest games of the season. The rest of the United team largely picks itself, and I would expect it to near enough be identical to the one that was used in the last meeting between the two; Giggs will come into the centre, and either Nani or Valencia will be sacrificed for Ji Sung Park and the extra energy and defensive ability that he brings.
The major issue in this game will be the attitude and approach of both teams. Whereas Chelsea really has nothing to lose here, Manchester United may be caught between wanting a win and knowing that a draw will be acceptable. Chelsea will be looking to get on the front foot from the off, piling forward in attack and trying to snatch an early goal to pile the pressure on United. Because of this I would expect United to try to soak up the early Chelsea pressure, and try to hit them on the counter-attack.
Carlo Ancelotti certainly has a difficult selection for Sunday; the team that he decides to start with may just make or break his career in West London. This could be the game that Torres justifies his astronomic price tag. My feeling is that he just isn't receiving the right passes for his movement at Chelsea, that is why if Yossi Benayoun is playing alongside him on Sunday, you could see them link up, and they may cause United big problems. The Chelsea manager also faces the dilemma of lining up with a 4-4-2 formation or the traditional 4-3-3; either way the pressure is on Ancelotti to pick the right one this time.
For United, the formation will most likely depend on how much Alex Ferguson is willing to go for the jugular, and end Chelsea's title challenge here and now. If he is feeling wary about going for the win, I would suspect that he may try and crowd the centre of the midfield and play Wayne Rooney as a lone centre forward. But, with the form of the goal-machine, Javier Hernandez, Ferguson may find his selection an irresistible opportunity. I have a feeling that, despite the poor performance against Arsenal last weekend, Ferguson will look to mirror the formation he chose for the last time United played Chelsea, and play Hernandez as the nominal striker with Rooney providing the link between midfield and attack.
From a spectator's point of view, this match is set up perfectly. This is not a mid-season clash between heavyweights; this is a title decider, right at the business end of one the most dramatic Premier League seasons in a long time. For both sides, the reward for a win massively outweighs the benefit of a draw, for Chelsea, a draw is not good enough, for United it only prolongs the sense of nervousness that recent results have created. I predict a game full of action and, most likely, controversy. Let's just hope that, come Sunday evening, we'll be talking about a wonderful game of football and not the referee: Howard Webb, when the FA may be putting blue or red ribbons on the coveted trophy.
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