It’s been a somewhat turbulent season, one that Michael Essien nicely referred to as a sandwich in his blog this week. I wouldn’t hasten to add what kind of filling we’ve had to endure (answers on a postcard to…) but it didn’t go down well I know that much. All I’m hoping is it doesn’t repeat on us. The point Essien was making, in his likeably eccentric way, was we’ve rediscovered our form at the business end of the season. The goals, spirit and quick passing have returned to ensure we’re the league’s form side going into this pivotal game. Just like munching on a sprout, marmite and spam butty us fans have had to ensure some sickening moments this season. It would be the perfect end (the crust?) if the team could give us one last sweet memory to saviour from this season on Sunday. We’ve had some brilliant performances in season climaxes gone by and this side is more than capable of delivering yet another high at Old Trafford.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Carlo recognising that he made a mistake with his starting line up against Man United in the CL. I don’t believe he’ll make the same mistake again. The team will have been working all week on moving the ball quickly and looking to dominate territory as we did through much of the game at Old Trafford last month. I think the key areas of space to exploit against Man U, backed up by the joy Walcott found last weekend, is behind the full backs. Both like to push on but are slow to return back, both sides will tuck in to make sure the centre is packed and difficult to pass through. At right back take your pick from either Fabio, Rafael or O’Shea but they all are vulnerable defensively in this position. The key to exploiting this space is the forward running of our own full backs. Our full backs have to take the game to the opposition and attack. Given the excellent recent form of Cole in particular, this is an area where the game can be won or lost.
With that in mind, like most fans, I expect Carlo to start the game with a 4-3-3. Drogba’s strength and form is a no-brainer and Carlo is sure to ask Kalou and Malouda to stretch the pitch by running wide when possible. Mikel’s form since he has come back into the team has been absolutely superb and really deserves to be recognised by more. When he is in this form there are few better in the anchor role and his defensive discipline will be vital to prevent counter-attacks and us overloading players. Ramires was excellent in the CL games and Carlo must be debating, possibly the most, about who will start between him and our sandwich loving mate Michael. It’s a close call. Ramires is tireless and does break into the box more often than Essien so he might be on the bench alongside Torres, ready to make an impact.
The reserve team that United put out on Wednesday night, against the utter dross of Schalke, was interesting in that it told us more about the likely side Fergie will play on Sunday. Basically, no surprises from the Champions League second leg with Giggs and Carrick likely to be the partnership in the centre. Park’s work rate makes his inclusion a certainty and Rooney will be asked to drop back on the left or to pressure Mikel. Where a surprise is likely to be sprung could be on the right of midfield. As we’ve said Cole’s bombarding runs are likely to be key, don’t be surprised to see a containment tactic with either Fletcher or one of the twins deployed on the right to double up on that side. A draw will do for Man U, they don’t need to chase the game. Whether this offers us perfect clarity to go out and get the win or open to the counter remains to be seen but a 4-3-3 and a quick tempo from the kick off surely must be part of Carlo’s tactics for the weekend. It’s been a rollercoaster season, have we got one last high left?