Manchester United vs. Chelsea: Choosing the Blues' Ideal Lineup for Sunday
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Sunday's FA Cup Cup quarterfinal between Manchester United and Chelsea was always going to be the highlight of the round, but given their respective midweek defeats in Europe, the sense of occasion has been cranked up a notch.
This fixture is now about redemption. Chelsea will be looking to keep their season alive by extending the hope of securing at least one trophy this season having lost 1-0 to Steaua Bucharest, while United will be eager to bounce back after crashing out of the Champions League.
They are both wounded beasts and recent history has told us that hell hath no fury like Manchester United or Chelsea scorned.
While all the debate since Real Madrid's victory at Old Trafford on Tuesday has surrounded Nani's red card and Wayne Rooeny's omission from the United lineup, Rafael Benitez has selection headaches of his own.
Chelsea would have had a little over 48 hours rest after their trip to Romania to face Steaua, so the Spaniard will be debating which players are fit and ready for United. Well, Bleacher Report has done his job for him, selecting Chelsea's ideal line-up for this mouth-watering cup tie.
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech
Petr Cech remains an exceptional goalkeeper.
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He has come in for some unfair criticism of late, but Petr Cech is one of the few players at Stamford Bridge whose presence in the starting lineup is all but guaranteed every week.
The form of Thibaut Courtois on loan at Atletico Madrid has seen many raise the question as to whether Cech will be at the club next season, let alone Chelsea's No. 1.
It all seems a little premature, though. He has been one of the Blues' best performers this season, especially since Rafa Benitez was appointed interim manager in November. And Chelsea aren't in the business of letting their best players leave.
The Czech stopper has been a mainstay in the Chelsea goal since 2004, incidentally, making his debut against Manchester United in a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge. He is vastly experienced and despite a horrendous list of injuries during his nine years in West London, remains a class act.
Defenders: Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole
John Terry and Ashley Cole are vital at the back for Chelsea.
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Without doubt, the Ivanovic-Cahill-Terry-Cole combination is Chelsea's strongest option at the back.
Not only is the quadruplet formed of vastly talented defenders individually, they collectively compliment one another's attributes.
To succeed at Old Trafford requires an iron will and sound mentality, which the likes of Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry bring to the Blues. Terry in particular has been missed considerably during his long injury layoff and facing an onslaught in the North West, he will lead from the front for Rafa Benitez's side, never shirking his responsibility.
Opinions of his character aside, his qualities as a player can never be doubted, and he will be relishing the opportunity to help drag Chelsea through this tie.
Ashley Cole remains one of the world's finest left-backs, while Gary Cahill has also emerged as a leader for Chelsea this season with some excellent performances.
Midfielders: David Luiz and Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard in action against Steaua Bucharest on Thursday.
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With Manchester United at home, Chelsea will have to get used to playing on the back foot on Sunday.
For some teams that prospect can almost prove too much, but with Frank Lampard and David Luiz playing as their midfield anchors, it could prove the key to them hitting United where it hurts.
Counter-attack football is about striking hard and fast, giving the opponent little opportunity to recover from lost possession.
While John Mikel Obi offers a solid option defensively, the Nigerian remains too laborious when in possession. He often slows down Chelsea going forward, which on Sunday will be detrimental to their attacking instincts.
Lampard and Luiz are players who not only pick out their teammates with great vision but who are dynamic enough to execute defense, splitting balls that will cause United problems.
They will be just as much a threat to United going forward as they will be defensively, and that alone is reason enough to play them together from the outset on Sunday.
Attacking Midfielders: Oscar, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard
Will it be high fives for Oscar and Hazard at Old Trafford?
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Chelsea are at their most devastating when Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard are on the pitch.
Mata has yet again been the club’s player of the year, while Oscar and Hazard have enjoyed bright starts to their Stamford Bridge careers since joining the Blues last summer.
The “Three Amigos” have been used sparingly together under Rafa Benitez, however, with the Spaniard opting to bench either Hazard or Oscar in the pursuit of defensive solidity.
While that is a reasonable approach, Sunday’s outing for Chelsea is a massive test and one they must overcome to give them a chance of ending the season with some element of satisfaction by lifting some form of silverware.
Playing the trio isn’t so much throwing caution to the wind, but it would be a brave statement of intent from Benitez and one that could very well pay off.
There is a cloud of despair hovering above Stamford Bridge, but a win at Old Trafford and progress in the FA Cup will help lift it somewhat. It’s why the Mata-Oscar-Hazard option is the only one Benitez should be considering.
Striker: Demba Ba
Demba Ba celebrates his strike against West Brom last week. But will he be celebrating come Sunday?
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Chelsea are in a state of flux where their strikers are concerned, though. Torres’ problems have been well documented, while Ba himself has suffered from a somewhat barren spell in front of goal.
His strike against West Bromwich Albion last week was his first goal since Jan. 16, a run that lasted eight games.
It would be unfair to overly criticize the Senegalese in the opening stages of his Chelsea career, but he knows the goals must start flowing if he is to become as vital to the Blues as he was to Newcastle United.
Chelsea need their key players to find form at the right time and Ba will be hoping last weekend’s strike is the start of better things to come. And what better time to add to your tally than at Old Trafford in the FA Cup?