In a week where Manchester United qualified for the Champions League Final, the team face the biggest game of the season so far at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The demolition of Schalke was achieved at minimal cost to the first-choice eleven’s fitness, with only Edwin van der Sar and Antonio Valencia having played in the first leg. It means that key players will have had a week’s rest ahead of the game that could clinch the record 19th title for United.
Despite only winning five games away from home all season, United have the destiny of the Premier League title in their hands after superb home form has seen them drop just two points out of a possible 51. The Reds will hope to maintain this excellent home record against the team who can usurp their position as League leaders, whom at one stage in the season looked like they would struggle to gain an automatic Champions League position.
Chelsea have been resurgent in the last few months and at one stage found themselves 15 points behind United. Victory tomorrow would be a role-reversal of the current situation and leave the destiny of the title firmly in Chelsea’s hands following United’s stuttering in recent weeks. Ominously, The Blues happen to be the last team to beat United at Old Trafford, in a game that proved decisive in Chelsea’s title win last season.
Since then (April 2010) however, Chelsea have beaten United just once in four meetings. August’s Community Shield defeat can be written off as a meaningless friendly, but a 3-1 aggregate defeat and first loss to United at Stamford Bridge in nine years cannot. While Chelsea’s win over United in the reverse fixture in March may have come with a little help from the referee, their recent form is a cause for concern for United, who’ve won just one of their last three League fixtures.
United’s victories over Chelsea in the Champions League Quarter finals were achieved with fantastic tactical displays. The 4-4-1-1 formation – that failed miserably against Arsenal last week, worked a treat in both games against Chelsea in April. Rooney’s tireless industry and dropping back allowed the central-midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs plenty of time on the ball in the case of the former and the latter plenty of space to run into.
That Park Ji-Sung wasn’t involved on Wednesday night suggests that he too will be in the starting-eleven after impressive performances against tomorrow’s opponents in the Champions League clashes. He will more than likely replace Nani; whose recent showings haven’t justified a starting place for the player who’s arguably been United’s best this season.
While there are still two games to go after tomorrow, the outcome of the game will go a long way to determining where the title will be heading. If United win, the title – pending catastrophic capitulation at the hands of Blackburn and Blackpool, will be all but theirs. If Chelsea win they will know that victories over Newcastle and Everton will guarantee them a second consecutive Premier League title, and United will have no-one to blame but themselves.
Referee: Howard Webb
Last five meetings:
12/04/2011 – United 2-1 Chelsea
06/04/2011 – Chelsea 0-1 United
01/03/2011 – Chelsea 2-1 United
08/08/2010 – United 3-1 Chelsea
03/04/2010 – United 1-2 Chelsea
1. van der Sar; 22. O’Shea, 5. Ferdinand, 15. Vidic, 3. Evra; 25. Valencia, 16. Carrick, 11. Giggs, 13. Park; 1o. Rooney, 14. Hernandez.