Meeting for the second time in the space of a month, Chelsea and Manchester United are once again preparing to clash at Stamford Bridge for the right to set up an FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City.
With their Premier League campaign in considerably worse shape than the Red Devils’, Rafa Benitez’s side will be the more desperate of the two to make something of their competition run.
These two sides have met 10 times in the FA Cup since 1908, with Manchester United triumphing on eight of those occasions and the Blues earning progression past their domestic rivals just twice.
Although the English game might be going through a rough patch of late, both United and Chelsea remain two of the sport’s biggest powers. They will need their stars to perform if they’re to come out on top of this encounter—the key battles of which are detailed ahead.
In his most recent Manchester United career, Michael Carrick’s role has reverted to that of a more defensively inclined holding midfielder, even to the point where the English international has featured at centre-back when required.
With either Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs or Shinji Kagawa likely to take up a position centralised more around playmaking, it will presumably be one of the 31-year-old’s duties to quash the threat of Juan Mata.
Although the Spaniard is likely to drift across the destructive trifecta of himself, Eden Hazard and Oscar, Mata tends to find himself in the centre of that attacking trio more often.
Rafa Benitez’s strikers have failed to reach their potential this season, and it’s been up to Mata and Hazard not only to do the scoring themselves but provide opportunities for their teammates—shouldering a heavy portion of the Blues’ burdens as a result.
Carrick will have his say going forward but will be expected to sit in front of his back line, break up Chelsea’s attack and contribute to the defence’s hopes as much as those in front of him.
With five assists to his name already this season, Ashley Cole has backed up his tag as the highest paid defender in world football. One can rest assured that the former Arsenal full-back will be stern competition against a team he’s no stranger to.
With Rafael set to miss out on the FA Cup meeting through injury, Phil Jones could fill in at right-back for Tuesday’s encounter just a week after returning to full training.
It’s safe to say that Jones will have his hands full with the potent threat Chelsea pose in their midfield ranks, but Cole is known as one of the world’s most capable left-backs for a reason and will look to assert his influence on the game.
In this baptism through fire, Jones could be hauled back into the action against hefty opposition and a veteran with more than a decade’s more Premier League experience than him.
Although Rafael is certainly the more attacking of the two, Jones will seek to have his say going forward as well. A centre-back by nature, the youngster should bring an added sense of security to the position, should he get the nod to start.
Deployed at centre-back for most of the campaign but appearing in a midfield role sporadically this season, David Luiz seems likely to go up against Wayne Rooney in a direct conflict this week, regardless of where the Chelsea man lines up.
With Robin van Persie either on the flank or ahead of him, Rooney has dropped into a role more akin to that of a trequartista for stretches of the 2012-13 term. Nevertheless, he still has a say in the scoring charts, boasting 16 goals and 14 assists across all competitions.
The England international managed to get on the scoresheet three weeks ago when the Red Devils saw out a 2-2 draw against the Blues, and he will hope to exert a similar impact on the matter this time around.
Despite his defensive stance, Luiz also has a fruitful scoring past against Manchester United, netting against Sir Alex Ferguson’s men on three occasions in his six meetings against the English giants.
Whether he’s at centre-back or in defensive midfield during midweek, Luiz is almost certain to butt heads with Rooney in what promises to be a fiery clash of big personalities.
With Rafa Benitez choosing to field Fernando Torres in the 2-1 loss to Southampton, it would seem logical that Demba Ba would start against Manchester United in such a congested part of the Chelsea calendar.
The Senegalese forward has emerged as his side’s leading frontman in recent weeks, and as Torres has yet to revive any consistency in front of goal, Ba might get the nod in what’s a crucial fixture for Benitez’s Blues.
Should the former Newcastle hitman be handed the start on Tuesday, he’s likely to face the challenge of overcoming Rio Ferdinand, who is fresh after an international break when he controversially opted not to feature for England.
With two weeks' rest under his belt, Ferdinand would seem as ready as ever to take on Chelsea, and the defender will be upbeat after the 1-0 victory over Sunderland.
While Nemanja Vidic is expected to govern the airways, Ferdinand is likely to take on his usual role of janitor, mopping up any opposition chances that might look to squeeze through the United back line.
Although the Red Devils stalwart might have lost a yard in recent years, Ferdinand is familiar with what will be asked of him against Chelsea. He will have to help in restraining a forward who—while maybe not enjoying his best form this season—is capable of brilliance.