Manchester United-Chelsea: Key Lies in the Midfield Battle
Two weeks back, when Manchester United beat Liverpool at home, and Chelsea slipped up at Blackburn, it seemed United had gained the confidence and momentum to go on and win the Premier League title for a fourth time in a row.
The Red Devils had a four-point lead (having played one game more than Chelsea), and Wayne Rooney could not stop scoring. The Blues, on the other hand, had crashed out of Europe at the hands of Inter Milan, and had also seen their one-point lead, turn into a deficit.
The events over the course of the past 10 days or so have really seen a change in scenario for both clubs.
United have still maintained their lead in the league, however, they were beaten convincingly by Bayern Munich in mid-week by a 2-1 score. Add to that, Rooney was seen limping off the pitch at the end of the game.
As it turns out, Rooney has not broken his ankle and instead has sustained ligament damage, which will keep him out for at least two weeks.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have recovered from their poor form, trouncing Aston Villa and Portsmouth in their last two matches. A total of 12 goals were scored in these two fixtures.
Frank Lampard is again returning to goalscoring form, and has now hit the back of the net five times in the last two matches. The Blues also got an entire week to prepare for the United game.
This is what makes the top of the table clash at Old Trafford on Saturday all the more interesting. It is a game that, without doubt, will play a big part in determining who wins the title.
With the red-hot Rooney missing, many believe the key to the match lies in Dimitar Berbatov's performance. They also feel Didier Drogba will have a big say in the game. Agreed, both pairs of centre-backs—Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, John Terry and Alex—will likely be kept busy through the match.
But I think the real key lies in midfield. A perfect example to help me elaborate would be the Bayern-United game. It served a reminder to the United midfield that even when your striker is in the form of his life, he can't do much if you don't support him adequately.
If you don't create chances, then where does the question of converting them even come in? In fact, if your midfield can't even retain the ball for longer than five seconds, then forget about creating chances as well.
I think the mid-week experience will see an improved performance in the middle of the park from United.
Antonio Valencia and Nani will be threats from the wings, and Chelsea will be missing their first-choice full-backs. That is where United should really look to capitalise.
For Chelsea, Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda are doing brilliant jobs, and will be the main midfield threats. Michael Ballack will be back for the game, and will probably start.
It is still left to see if Deco or Joe Cole, who were both impressive against Villa, will start or not. It is creative players like them who can come up with the spark and much-needed moments of magic in such games.
I think no one can wait for the action to begin. It'll be a tight affair, no doubt.
Man United 1-2 Chelsea
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