Big day tomorrow.
Manchester United travel south knowing that Chelsea are now very much in the race for the title, as Roberto Di Matteo’s side so emphatically showed at White Hart Lane last weekend. But they’ll also know that, in spite of the obvious challenge they face in keeping a clean sheet, they have more than enough firepower to hurt their opponents.
Given Manchester City’s stuttering form, Arsenal impotence, and Tottenham’s transitional phase, there isn’t a forward line more dangerous in the league than Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez – and Alex Ferguson will relish the opportunity to line at least two of them up against Chelsea’s fragile backline. The one commodity that is more important than any other against players like Van Persie and Rooney is concentration, and that’s not necessarily an attribute which you associate with Gary Cahill and David Luiz. Tottenham hurt them a week ago, and that was in spite of being obviously understrength – United will surely fancy their chances.
The good side of Chelsea is obvious – the forward line. Fernando Torres may still be a man casting no shadow, but Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, and Oscar are a terrifying prospect for anyone. The cohesion and understanding in that part of the team is developing every week, and given United’s lack of strength in defensive midfield, the frailties which exist at the heart of the back-line, and the lack of confidence which seemingly afflicts David De Gea, you’d be brave to bet on United heading back up the M1 with a clean sheet.
Key tomorrow will be the centre of the pitch, because whoever takes control of that area will have the best platform to launch their creative elements on their opponent. Michael Carrick will start for United, and so, probably, will Paul Scholes – the latter is the essential ingredient for the visitors, because he’ll give them a modicum of control when in possession, and with Shinji Kagawa injured there are very few other options.
Chelsea, with Frank Lampard injured and unavailable for the next three weeks, will start with John Obi Mikel and Ramires, who don’t offer anything like the same ball-playing ability – but that’s countered by their superior destructive capabilities, which will be essential if and when either of the visiting forwards drop off the forward line to involve themselves in the play.
Win the midfield battle, win the game – maybe United‘s big-game experience tells here.
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