Who: Chelsea FC vs. Manchester United FC
What: UEFA Cup, Round 6 (Replay)
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England, United Kingdom
When: Monday, April 1, 2013
Weather: The Weather Channel
Time: 12:30 GMT/7:30 a.m. ET/4:30 a.m. PT
Television: Fox Soccer Channel, FOX Deportes (USA), ITV 1, UTV (UK)
Worldwide Live Streams and TV Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
Pre-Match Special: Sky Sports (channel 421), 11:30 GMT
Radio: SiriusXM Sirius 94 (Internet 94), BBC Radio 5 Live (UK), CFC Website
Referee: Phil Dowd
Three-Way Odds: Chelsea +135, Manchester United +175, Draw +250
Total: Over 3 Even, Under 3 -130
Pick 'Em Odds: Chelsea -135, Manchester United Pick +105
Two-Way Odds: Chelsea -½ -135, Manchester United +½ -175
Source: Bovada (Kahnawake, Canada)
Alternate Point Spreads:
Chelsea +½ -230, Manchester United -½ +175
Over 2½ -185, Under 2½ +125
Over 1½ -450, Under 1½ +300
Who Will Advance: Chelsea -125, Manchester United -105
Source: Bovada (Kahnawake, Canada)
In the wake of Saturday's English Premier League matches, Manchester United has to feel good heading into this FA Cup quarterfinals replay at Stamford Bridge while Chelsea must be feeling...
Well, I'm at a loss for words.
When these two behemoths met last on March 10 at Old Trafford, United dominated the first half on early goals by Javier Hernández and Wayne Rooney. Chelsea answered with a strong second half and earned the replay, as Eden Hazard and Ramires goals knotted up the score at 2-2.
On Saturday, United coasted to a 1-0 win after jumping out to an early lead against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, while Chelsea looked uninspired in a humbling 2-1 loss to Southampton at St. Mary's Stadium.
With so much at stake in probably the biggest game of the year to date in England, both managers will put forth their best starting XIs in an effort to advance to the tournament's semifinals and a date with defending league champions Manchester City on April 14 at London's Wembley Stadium.
For first-place United (25-2-3), winning the Premier League is a foregone conclusion now, as it sits 15 points above its noisy neighbor, City.
Better known for their offensive prowess, the Red Devils and goalkeeper David de Gea have now registered six straight clean sheets in top flight play and will come into West London confident for this showdown.
Toss in that United doesn't have to worry about competing in the UEFA Champions League or putting forth a maximum effort to win the Premier League, and this seems like a case of one team being loose and the other one being tight.
Chelsea (16-7-7, 55 points) suddenly finds itself in fourth place in the league table, two points behind third-place Tottenham Hotspur (57 points) and two points ahead of fifth-place Arsenal (53) in what is shaping up to be a fierce fight between the three big London clubs for those last two Champions League qualifications spots.
Although this game is important for the Red Devils, it is probably much more important to defending FA Cup champion Chelsea, which desperately needs to do something positive after a season that will see the beleaguered Blues play a record number of games and possibly come up with no silverware at all.
The reality the Red Devils and manager Sir Alex Ferguson created where they could almost start two different squads for the Sunderland and Chelsea games in an effort to rest key players was not lost on Blues interim manager Rafael Benítez heading in.
"We can't do that. The difference between them and us is that they are 15 points ahead," Benítez told Sky Sports midweek. "It is not an excuse. The reality is that their position in the table gives them an advantage and they are out of the Champions League. Their priority will be the FA Cup."
It's so easy to pass judgment now, but The Manager Formerly Known As Liverpool's decision to start Oscar, Victor Moses and Marko Marin in the advanced midfield left a lot to be desired in retrospect.
Knowing playmaker Juan Mata was ill—he'll definitely be back for this clash of titans—and the importance of trying as hard as possible to earn three points on a day where every club in the top six was victorious but the Blues, one would have thought Benítez would have at least started the talented Hazard.
Southampton looked larger, tougher and more experienced than Oscar, Moses and Marin, who are all in their first season at Stamford Bridge and haven't seen a lot of playing time cumulatively, let alone together on the pitch.
That can certainly be laid on the interim manager.
Some Blues fans on Twitter were so bitter after the Saints match they speculated the 52-year-old Benítez is trying to lose intentionally to prevent Chelsea from qualifying for the Champions League and lose its chance at landing José Mourinho in the process.
After all, if you were the self-anointed Great One, would you want to manage a team that won't be playing in the Champions League next season?
But enough with all the peripheral crap. We have a game to analyze here, Bubba. And she's a comin' quick.
With the importance of this game to the Red Devils—they'd love a double—and the team playing such solid defense combined with the fact that defense is usually Chelsea's forte, this one should be low scoring and tight even with scorers like Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernández, Shinji Kagawa, Nani, Demba Ba or Fernando Torres, Mata and Hazard on the field.
Considering Petr Čech (11 clean sheets) in goal—the top-ranked player at the position in the EA Sports Player Performance Index—the Blues' usually stubborn back line and the fact the game is at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea's defense should be enough of a deterrent to the Red Devils, which will look to work the flanks when on the attack.
Chelsea may be without the services of Gary Cahill (knee) on defense, but Ashley Cole, David Luiz and the extremely impressive César Azpilicueta should start alongside captain John Terry at his familiar left center-back position.
Who starts in the two spots in the defensive midfield is anyone's guess, but it wouldn't be surprising to again see Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel out there, like on Saturday.
Mata and Hazard should both be in the advanced midfield alongside either Oscar, Moses or maybe even Ramires. With Ba being cup-tied for Thursday's Europa League first-leg home quarterfinal against Rubin Kazan (Fox Soccer Channel, 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT) and not having played at Southampton with a masked Torres in, the former Newcastle United striker should start up top.
And a big game from the 6'2" Senegalese national will be absolutely imperative for the Blues to advance in his one.
Despite the fact the series trends point to the over and a high-scoring game here, the fact that the Red Devils have been so solid defensively—tossed in with Chelsea's strong defense (second best in the EPL) and the Blues' desperation factor—means the goals may be few and far between.
If the Blues can control United's attack on the edges and make some things happen themselves offensively up the middle, they have a chance of edging the Red Devils, which they will face again in a little more than a month on May 4 at Old Trafford in Premier League play.
Seldom do I ever have trouble choosing a winner or a totals bet in these Bleacher Report previews, but this one is a mystery to me. I could go either way, and it should be a tight and possibly controversial game.
Although I'm pegging a 1-1 scoreline below, it could very well be 0-0 or 2-2 after 90 minutes. I saw extra time and possibly even a penalty kick shootout in my trusty crystal ball, although I do think United +175 holds some value right now at that hefty plus price.
It would have been nice to be able to tell you who will win, but some balding, rotund Spaniard with a moustache and glasses knocked over the table at the restaurant and accidentally shattered my crystal ball.
I didn't catch his name. But I can tell you that he was my waiter. So make of that what you will.
Final Score Prediction: Chelsea 1, Manchester United 1
Team to Advance: Flip a coin
Follow me on Twitter: @KevinStott11