After playing out a draw in their first matchup, Chelsea will again take on Manchester United in the FA Cup as they battle it out for English supremacy.
Having won the cup last year, the Blues will be desperate to repeat their success over the Red Devils, who have stormed away with the Premier League title this year. Man U will be keen to do the English League double this season, and given the way they've been playing throughout the year, it will take an inspired performance to stop them in their tracks.
Who's going through to the FA Cup semifinals?
These two clubs have met in many big games over the years, and there isn't any love lost between the managers—Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez—either. They'll both be keen to win and gain the upper hand in their rivalry.
It's shaping up as a memorable FA Cup match that will bring out the best in both teams once more. Who will win through to take on Manchester City in the semifinals and keep their cup dream alive?
Read on for a full preview and prediction for this epic clash.
Date: Monday, April 1, 2013
Start time: 7:30 a.m. ET (12:30 p.m. local time)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London, England
Live Stream and TV Info
Fox Soccer Channel and FOX Deportes will both provide TV coverage of this FA Cup match. The game will also be available via SiriusXM FC, TalkSport Radio throughout the United States.
BBC Radio 5 Live, UTV and ITV 1 will do the same throughout the United Kingdom, according to Live Soccer TV.
FA Cup so Far
Manchester United have struggled throughout the FA Cup (in comparison to their domestic success this season), risking elimination at several points throughout the year.
United snared a last-minute equalizer against West Ham in the third round to force a replay, which they duly won 1-0 at Old Trafford. They then went on to defeat Fulham 4-1 at home before sneaking past lowly Reading 2-1 at Old Trafford, which United were incredibly lucky to win.
They then had a 2-2 draw against Chelsea in the quarterfinals—a game the Blues should have won had they been more clinical in front of goal.
After cruising past Southampton in the third round, Chelsea suffered a huge scare when they traveled to lowly Brentford in the fourth round. They finished with a 2-2 draw there, after Fernando Torres came on as a substitute to net a late equalizing goal and force a replay at the Bridge.
The Blues would win that one 4-0 and back it up with a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough in the fifth round before taking on United. After squandering several chances throughout that one, Chelsea will be looking to make up for it with a big win here and knock United out of their second cup of the year—having defeated them 5-4 in the League Cup earlier in the year.
Key Storyline to Watch: Fatigue of Both Sets of Players
With replays and various European fixtures ongoing, scheduling for this FA Cup replay was at a less than ideal time for both clubs. Having played away from home on Saturday in the English Premier League, they must now back up with little recovery time for a huge match here.
Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez rested a number of players against Southampton on the weekend in order to have them fit here—and lost the game because of it. He defended that selection (via BBC Sport) and then expressed dissatisfaction to The Guardian about the difficult schedule the Blues had to deal with.
Physiologically, it's impossible. The day after a game you feel really tired, but two days afterwards you feel even more tired. It's the reality. This second day will be really tough for everyone.
Manchester United striker Robin van Persie—who played on the weekend against Sunderland—also lamented the scheduling (via The Daily Mail). According to him, the fatigue of both sets of players could mean that the overall quality will be down in this key fixture.
It's not ideal [playing with such a short turnaround]. Normally on the second day your muscles are quite bad but now we have to play at this certain time. It is a shame but we can't do anything about it...we just have to deal with it.
People have to realise they can't expect a great game of football because it is not possible. If it happens I am glad, but don't expect it because these games are just too close to each other.
How the fatigue affects both sets of players will be fascinating to watch, and it will surely decide the outcome of this game. It will also be key to see how the players who rested for this one perform, given the expectations upon them.
They'll be looked to for inspiration and success, and if they can't triumph over their more tired opponents, their respective team will struggle.
This one could end up being a battle of fitness.
Key Player to Watch: Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
In light of that, and in light of current form, Wayne Rooney is the key player to watch as he tries to keep the Red Devils alive in the cup.
Rooney has been on a tear lately for United and England, and after sitting out the Sunderland match on the weekend, he will be feeling lively for this one.
The striker has found great success since moving back to an attacking midfielder's role—something that hurt Chelsea both times they played this year. The Blues struggled to get a body on him at times and adapt to his positioning in the center of the field. If they can't adjust to him this time, they will surely struggle to win this match.
Rooney is a devastating finisher whose ability to bring his teammates into the game makes for a lethal attacker. He can shift the ball wide and utilize United's wing strength, feed ahead to Van Persie and Javier Hernandez or finish brilliantly himself.
With 13 goals and 12 assists for the Red Devils this year, Rooney has shown he can be a potent player for United, and he'll continue that here. Look for the Blues to try and get the physical presence of David Luiz on Rooney and shut down the space around him—something that will decide the outcome of this game, one way or another.
With the Premier League seemingly in the bag, United will look to this game knowing that they stand a chance to win the league/cup double this year.
The Red Devils' attack has been devastating all season, and with their defense particularly strong over the past few weeks or so, they represent a tough opponent to beat—even playing away from home at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have struggled with consistency all season, and whilst they've rested a number of players in order to field their best team on Monday, you wonder how that will affect them. Their squad can be lethal at its best, but can also struggle for cohesion and organization at times.
How that will play out still remains to be seen, but even away from home, it's hard to look past Manchester United holding on for the win in this one.
I'd say the Red Devils snare an early two-goal lead over their hosts (sound familiar) before the Blues score late in the game to keep it close.
And whilst Chelsea will no doubt throw everything at United, expect their defense to hold firm once more and move them through to the next round of the cup.
Prediction: Chelsea 1, Manchester United 2
What do you think will happen in this epic FA Cup clash?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre