Manchester United-Chelsea: Missing Players Around Net Will Loom Large

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Manchester United-Chelsea:  Missing Players Around Net Will Loom Large
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After drawing level on points with Manchester City this week, Manchester United enters a string of challenging fixtures that can only be described as the beginning of "squeaky bum time."

Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle and Tottenham await the Red Devils over the next four fixtures.

This means that, of the other five squads in the top six of English football, United face four in four matches.

The title cannot be won over these matches, but it can sure be lost.  Thus, it is vital that Man U get off to a good start in this string of matches and get as many points as possible.

That's why the loss of Anders Lindegaard—the relatively new No. 1 keeper—for four weeks is so crushing.

Lindegaard has been solid over his Premier League starts this season; perhaps not spectacular, but a fine alternative to the netminder whose place he took.

Sir Alex Ferguson now has three options in net: the young Spaniard David de Gea, Tomasz Kuszczak and 21-year-old Ben Amos.

De Gea started the season in net for United, but soon came under fire for letting a few soft goals find the back of the net.  

The Spaniard showed great promise, but also showed inexperience and a lack of consistency that United can hardly tolerate in this title race.

Faced with the decision at mid-week, Ferguson went with the young Englishman Amos, who recorded a clean sheet, albeit while facing little pressure from the Stoke attack.  

SAF cited sickness as the reason behind not playing De Gea, but did not mention why Amos got the start over Kuszczak.

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It's likely that De Gea will be well enough for the upcoming matches, including Sunday at Chelsea.  

However, if he isn't, Ferguson will have a tough decision as to whether to go with the inexperienced Amos, or the recently skipped over Kuszczak.

In any case, Lindegaard will be sorely missed Sunday.

If there is any saving grace for Sunday, though, it is the missing piece on the Chelsea side.

Ashley Cole—the left wing back who's been a key to Chelsea's play this season—will miss his first start of the Premier League campaign after picking up a red at Swansea at mid-week.

Cole's play lent a bit of consistency to a Chelsea defense that was otherwise jumbled.  

After early season woes, the Blues' defense seemed on track in the past few matches, but the loss of Cole will be a big blow.

Whether the elderly Paulo Ferreira, the inexperienced Ryan Bertrand, or another defender get the start Sunday, it's unlikely that Chelsea will adequately make up for the loss of Cole and his attacking threat.

Over the past few seasons, Manchester United vs. Chelsea has been a battle for EPL supremacy.

This season, with Chelsea's struggles and both clubs' injury situations, it's looking like more of a war of attrition that both clubs will just want to get through.

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