Amidst the drama of the morning, where the English FA announced the removal of John Terry as captain, there’s still a match to be played on Sunday at Stamford Bridge. Ironically, the opposition goes by the name “United,” which is exactly what the players must be thinking at the moment.
Terry, himself, will play no part in the Manchester United match, as manager Andre-Villas Boas has ruled him out due to a knee injury. Also out are Ramires, due to a knee injury and John Mikel Obi, due to a hamstring problem. Ashley Cole is set to miss out because of suspension from the red card he received at Swansea on Tuesday.
For United, they will be boosted by the returns of Wayne Rooney and Nani, who are both fit again after injury, while Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young will both travel, but are doubtful for the match.
This preview will take a different tone than my previous ones, as I’m introducing Five Things I Think about the upcoming match.
1. I think that the loss of Ashley Cole is quite a problem for this upcoming match. I’ve said it for a while now, but the illusion of attacking in wide areas is sometimes more powerful than actually doing it. By that, I mean the fullbacks can be used to pin the oppositions’ wide men back. Against United, something that Sir Alex Ferguson has been able to do comfortably, is ignore the fullback threat. His wide men have been permitted to play more inside and outnumber the midfield at every turn. Ash’s loss hurts that idea.
2. I firmly believe that Rooney comes back into the side, and I also think that his goals won’t hurt us, but his ability to shift between striker and midfield will be a key. Something that we used to do to United repeatedly was take advantage of the 3 v 2 that we enjoyed in the midfield playing 4-3-3 vs. 4-4-2. What Ferguson has done brilliantly is find players to sink into the midfield in transition to combat the effects. Rooney has been key to that because he can come from a forward position and drop deep, making him harder to pick up unless you mark him with the holding player, again negating the 3 v 2 advantage.
3. If Gary Cahill is to ever get his debut, this is the perfect time. Terry has already been declared out, and the one player that’s given David Luiz headaches over the last few years is Javier Hernandez. “Chicharito” has been able to play in the spaces and exploit the fact that Terry and Luiz both like to attack the ball, with neither really being great at covering for a defensive partner. That’s why Ricardo Carvalho was the perfect partner for Terrry, and even with his absence, Luiz has a lot of the same skills. Cahill’s a more natural covering option at center back and might aid in stopping the Little Pea from breaking the back line.
4. Daniel Sturridge must have a much better game than he did at Old Trafford in the fall. That day, Sturridge seemed overawed by the moment and never seemed to really settle and play his game. He must settle on Sunday because there are no ways of changing the side if he doesn’t. At the moment, we have no cover for the right-sided attacker with Salomon Kalou still at the African Cup of Nations. Sturridge must create some level of danger push Patrice Evra back, otherwise, United will attack that flank with no fear.
5. I don’t think United are unbeatable. I think the way to beat United is to force Sir Alex to have to attempt to change the course of the match without making a substitution to his starting 11. The sides that have given United problems have been teams that have forced the 11 men of United to do things that they’re not accustomed to doing. While Ferguson gets all sorts of tactical plaudits, his system is quite well defined with specific jobs assigned to specific players. When you force those players to have to think outside those jobs, they have trouble adapting. It’s why Ferguson’s subs are also usually effective. He swaps in players with different job assignments that change the match. We have the potential to do that under Villas-Boas, but it requires the players to work as a unit and think as a unit, something that we haven’t done to great effect this season.
The last thing is that I think this will be just as cagey as every other Chelsea/United meeting over the last few years. However, we must be careful because with certain personnel absent for this match, United could exploit those absences and overrun us very quickly.