Chelsea vs. Manchester United: 5 Last-Minute Thoughts
Perhaps it is not the biggest sporting match on the day, with the Super Bowl dominating coverage here in the states, but it will surely live up to the expectations we all have.
Throughout the media-sphere, everyone has weighed in with their two cents about what will occur at Stamford Bridge today. From what I can gather, it seems pretty much split based more on allegiances than unbiased analysis.
We are all well aware of how great this matchup has become in recent years and how tightly contested they can be. It has been nine games since one side won by more than two goals.
Here are some last-second thoughts for you to consider before kickoff.
The Absence of Ramires Will Be Felt
Since Ramires has become an every-game player for the Blues, he has been one of their best and most consistent players.
His ability to win 50/50 balls in the midfield and seemingly endless energy has become a staple of Villas-Boas’ lineup.
However, he will not take part in today’s matchup, being ruled out for the second match in a row with a knee injury.
Ramires is not exactly a game-changer in the traditional sense of the word. He will not score the go-ahead goal or make the decisive defensive stop. But he would be influential especially against a fast and fluid team like Manchester United.
Late last season in the match between the two sides, Carlo Ancelotti opted for Jon Obi Mikel in the defensive midfield role. It backfired, as Mikel was unable to keep up with the pace or movement of the United midfield and Wayne Rooney who was in a deep-lying role.
In the first time the two sides played back in September, Ramires was one of the few who had a decent game. Sir Alex may look to exploit the hole left by his absence the same way he did last year.
Frank Lampard’s Return Could Be Pivotal
Should this be the case, he most likely will not get the start, but he still could have an influence on the match.
For all the calls to have him go, he has ultimately been one of the best offensive threats on the team, leading in goals despite coming on as a sub in six matches. Time and time again he has proven that he still has it.
On a day when Ashely Cole is suspended, John Terry will not be included and Didier Drogba is away on international duty, the question will be where the leadership will come from.
Most predicted starting lineups are absent of a single outfield player who has won any trophy in England. A trivial fact perhaps, but important nonetheless as they look for a player to guide them to a win.
Lampard’s late substitution could be the vital move to guide them to the full three points and regain some pride from what has been a mediocre season at best.
Daniel Sturridge’s Chance to Shine
Reviews of Daniel Sturridge’s play have been mixed this season.
On the one hand, he has been excellent in front of the goal, as he is second on the team in scoring and a constant threat in front of the goal.
On the other hand, he has made poor decisions time after time and left many more on the field than he has put away.
Last time out against United, we had our first glance that perhaps he is not as great as he appeared. The infinitely more experienced Patrice Evra did not bite on his fancy footwork and laid back so as not to get beaten by his speed.
Sturridge has a real chance today to help his cause that he is indeed the future of the club.
This does not mean he scores a hat trick and adds two assists. It just means that he is a consistent contributor to the game. He cannot become isolated out on the wing by himself and cost his team chances with mental errors.
It will again be stiff competition, but if he can finally link up with Fernando Torres, he could come away from the match with the complete confidence of the fans.
Villas-Boas Is on Watch
We as Chelsea fans have become spoiled over the last decade by a team that if not competing for every available trophy late into April will be angry and bitter.
And you know what? I am not apologizing for that.
As a club that spends the kind of money they do, they have resources available to them that should make contending the minimum.
Last season, a coach lost his job for failing to win silverware, but this year it seems the manager may be safe with an even poorer result.
I am fine with Villas-Boas being the manager of the future, but as a fan, I need to see him win a big game in his Chelsea career. This matchup against United is his best chance to earn the loyalty of the questioning fans.
He is not going to outfox Fergie and his genius, but he does have the players who can outplay his. If Villas-Boas allows his players to play their game instead of forcing them into a style of play at which they are inept, then he could get the victory and quiet a lot of speculation about his future.
Though there are no trophies on the line for Chelsea today, a blow to United’s title hopes will have Villas-Boas and the fans walking away content.
It Will Be the Perfect Appetizer
This may not apply too much to those of us who live in Europe, but here in America, today is one of the biggest days in all of sports—the Super Bowl.
While my team is not in it (AGAIN!!!!) I still live in New York City, where the entire town has been enthralled by the New York Giants' remarkable run all the way to the championship.
I will be rooting for their opponents, the New England Patriots, just to rub it in my good friend’s face when Tom Brady outshines Eli Manning.
However, there is one thing that ruins the game for me—endless speculation and mindless predictions by the so-called “experts” of the game.
This match between Chelsea and Manchester United will save me from a few hours of that nonsensical banter, and I am grateful for it.
So, at the very least, no matter what the outcome may be, it is the perfect way to pass time before the bigger game tonight.
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