Chelsea coach Rafa Benitez named a side with eight changes made since their 2-0 defeat to Manchester City last weekend. Dutch youngster Nathan Ake made his debut start for the first team.
An explosion in a press conference after the match from Benitez has surely put him in the hot seat and knowing owner Roman Abramovich, he may not even be the Chelsea manager come the quarterfinal against United. However, assuming he somehow manages to keep his job and the attentiveness of his players, let’s take a look at the possibilities of this team progressing past the Red Devils.
Manchester United are the Premier League’s team in form at the moment, and it will take a mastermind effort from Benitez and the Blues to overcome the Red Devils' momentum. However, we should keep in mind that this isn’t out of Benitez’s caliber. He did, after all, spur Liverpool to a 4-1 victory at Old Trafford in 2009 over a top-of-the-table United side.
It should be dually noted that Benitez is a cup manager. By that I mean that he has had more success in cup competitions than in leagues (in England). He won the Champions League in his first season with Liverpool after making some key lineup changes in the matches leading up to and including the final. He also won the FA Cup with the Reds in 2006.
In today’s match against Middlesbrough, Chelsea’s lineup contained a lot of surprises. Jose Mourinho-favorite Paolo Ferreira was used for the first time since last season’s Champions League (excluding the WFC). Ryan Bertrand and Benitez-favorite Yossi Benayoun saw action as well. Eden Hazard, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, David Luiz and Demba Ba all found themselves on the bench.
Ramires scored the first after a slight deflection off Fernando Torres. Victor Moses was a powerful and energetic presence on the right wing and he deservedly scored the second to put Chelsea comfortably in the driver’s seat after some good link-up play with substitute Hazard.
This being said, Middlesborough are clearly not in the same category as Manchester United, even with the FA Cup’s extra juice it seems to inject into teams.
It will take more than that extra juice to put Chelsea past Manchester United, however. Benitez will have to be brave with his selections. Hazard, Oscar, and Juan Mata seem like good choices for attacking options, but personally I’d like to see the inclusion of Lampard in the lineup. A Chelsea man through-and-through, Lampard could be the glue that keeps the talented side together. His leadership is priceless.
Also, a Victor Moses inclusion might be the key to opening up the right side of United's defense. Who to play as a forward for the match will be a big decision as well, with both Ba and Torres out of form recently.
United will probably be naming a side including veterans Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra that has heaps of experience, especially in the FA cup. I expect to see Phil Jones in the starting lineup as well, with his credentials having been boosted even more after his impressive performance against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu a fortnight ago.
Since the match will be at Old Trafford, I expect United to be on the front foot, but stymied by a smash-and-grab effort by Chelsea, who will walk out 2-1 winners.