No rest for the weary—or for under-fire interim managers and chasers of the Double.
When Chelsea host Manchester United in an FA Cup quarterfinal replay on Monday around lunchtime, both teams will have had less than two days to recover from their Premier League fixtures on Saturday. Those fixtures hardly could have played out more differently.
United won 1-0 at Sunderland, sealing Martin O'Neill's fate and briefly extending their lead atop the table to 18 points. Manchester City's victory over Newcastle reduced the gap to 15 points, but the win was United's seventh straight heading into next weekend's Manchester Derby.
Chelsea, meanwhile, lost 2-1 at relegation-threatened Southampton. The result heaped more misery on unpopular interim manager Rafa Benitez, whose team fell to fourth place—two points above Arsenal for the Premier League's final UEFA Champions League qualification spot.
Afterward, Benitez wasn't shy in complaining about Chelsea's demanding schedule. As The Guardian reports, Chelsea's 54th and 55th matches of the season will be separated by fewer than 48 hours.
"Physiologically, it's impossible," Benítez said. "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."
In this case, of course, "everyone" also refers to Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson's team traveled to Sunderland on Saturday, and Monday's match will be held in London. That said, United probably faced less pressure than Chelsea, who face a three-club fight for the league's last two Champions League spots.
"For four months, we have been playing one game every three or four days more or less, we know how to handle this, but two days? It's impossible to have fresh legs if you play the 90 minutes against Southampton," said Benitez.
For United, the match represents the latest challenge in the quest for a first league-and-FA-Cup "Double" since 1998-99. The Red Devils also claimed the UEFA Champions League crown that season. This season, United's Champions League challenge ended in the Round of 16 against Real Madrid in a 2-1 home loss (in controversial circumstances) on March 5.
Five days later they survived Chelsea's second-half comeback to draw 2-2 at Old Trafford in the original FA Cup quarterfinal. According to Ferguson, United faced their own battle with fatigue that day.
"I thought we were lucky to be honest with you," Ferguson said (via ManUtd.com). "I thought that tiredness had got into the team and, from a comfortable position for the first 20 minutes, you could see the signs when we started to give the ball away just before half-time. That is a definite sign of tiredness."
Ferguson rested forward Wayne Rooney, defender Rio Ferdinand and midfielder Ryan Giggs for Saturday's match (via Goal.com). All three should be available Monday.
United last won the FA Cup in 2004, losing finals in 2005 and 2007, the latter against Chelsea. The Blues raised the cup in 2009, 2010 and 2012, but Dutch striker Robin van Persie said he's confident Manchester United can produce a positive result Monday at Stamford Bridge.
"We want to win the Double and we took a big step in the league (on Saturday against Sunderland)," van Persie said (via ManUtd.com). "But we want to go for both. Now we have to look ahead to the FA Cup tie against Chelsea. It's going to be a big test but I'm quite confident we can play well at Stamford Bridge and get a good result."
The winner advances to face Manchester City in the semifinals at Wembley on April 14. The final is scheduled for May 11, also at Wembley.
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