When: Sunday May, 5 2013
Where: Old Trafford
Having already wrapped up the Premier League title last week, Manchester United assuredly have less on the line heading into their weekend clash against Chelsea than the visitors do.
However, that fact won’t affect the mentality of any Red Devil leading up to Sunday’s Old Trafford encounter, with the hosts as eager as any to come away with bragging rights over the Blues.
Currently third in the Premier League hunt, Rafa Benitez’s men are still fighting for their spot in next season’s Champions League competition and can’t yet afford to count any chickens based upon their Europa League run.
Ashley Young is Sir Alex Ferguson’s only sure-fire absence for the remainder of the campaign having picked up a season-ending ankle injury in the 2-1 loss to Manchester City at the start of April.
However, two shorter-term injuries make Danny Welbeck and Nemanja Vidic minor doubts for this weekend’s matchup (via FootballFantasyScout.com).
74% - Of all players to play 150+ Premier League games, Nemanja Vidic has the best win percentage (P184 W136). Leader.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 1, 2013
The pair, struggling with calf and knee injuries, respectively, both missed the 1-1 draw against Arsenal as a result of their strains and will be assessed closer to kickoff to see if they’re likely to feature.
Rafa Benitez has a much slimmer cause of concern as things stand, but that could change after the Europa League semi-final fixtures against FC Basel in midweek.
Marko Marin was a concern with a thigh injury prior to the Liverpool fixture a fortnight ago, but he has returned to training and can hope for a place on the Blues bench.
After scoring in his last four consecutive games, Robin van Persie will, of course, be the in-form man to watch in front of goal while Chelsea have a much more even spread, seven different goalscorers having netted their last 10 goals across all competitions.
- Already having met on four separate occasions this season, Chelsea currently lead the series 2-1 with one draw in the mix for good measure. United won their league encounter at Stamford Bridge while the Blues boast victories in the FA Cup and Capital One Cup.
- Chelsea have won just one of their last 10 trips to Old Trafford, a 2-1 Premier League triumph in 2010.
- This will mark the 142nd league meeting between these two sides, none of which have occurred outside England’s top two tiers.
Players to Watch
When it’s been required of him this season, just as he did in the last, Phil Jones has happily shown his versatility by playing out of his usual centre-back position.
One position at which the 21-year-old has looked particularly impressive is in a holding-midfield role, more often than not operating alongside Michael Carrick.
The youngster has been deployed in this midfield role against the likes of Real Madrid, Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and not to mention Chelsea, all with the specific purpose of limiting the impact of specific opponents.
Against Real, it was Cristiano Ronaldo. Against Everton, it was Marouane Fellaini. Against Tottenham, it was Gareth Bale and, while it may not produced the desired effect in the 1-0 FA Cup replay loss, Jones will once again line up with the intentions of quelling the threat Chelsea pose with their midfield trifecta of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard.
For several seasons now, defensive midfield has been one area that United haven’t been able to boast a talent on the same par as their more offensive weapons, and while Jones may still not be the solution to that problem, he brings a considerable talent to the role for now.
After netting what was quite a splendid volley in his last match against Manchester United, Demba Ba will look to be the difference for his side once more, this time at the Theatre of Dreams.
The Senegalese striker led the line well during Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Swansea City last weekend, and with Fernando Torres being the club’s main striker in the Europa League, Ba is more than likely to be the one preferred from the off in Manchester.
The creative engine of Mata, Hazard and Oscar—more affectionately known as “Mazacar” among Chelsea fans—is one that most strikers would dream of having behind them, providing a very consistent stream of scoring opportunities.
However, more than just relying on others to get the ball to him, Ba will have a great duty to perform in contending with a combination of Jonny Evans, Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand.
Ba will be expected to compete aerially with the opposition centre-backs—a hefty task in itself considering their dominance in that area—as well as hold the ball up and bringing those around him into the attack.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1)
David de Gea; Rafael, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra; Michael Carrick, Phil Jones; Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa; Robin van Persie
Petr Cech; Cesar Azpilicueta, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Ashley Cole; David Luiz, John Obi Mikel; Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar; Demba Ba
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