Chelsea needs to beat Man United to save its season
The Champions League quarterfinal, second legs kick off Tuesday afternoon across the Fox family of networks. Live coverage begins at 2 PM EDT on Fox Soccer as Manchester United look to complete the job against Chelsea in the all-England matchup, while Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk host Barcelona with a steep mountain to climb.
The quarterfinals will conclude tomorrow as Schalke hope to defend their 5-2 lead over Inter Milan and Tottenham hope for a better showing against Real Madrid at White Hart Lane.
MANCHESTER UNITED vs. CHELSEA (United leads 1-0 and has an away goal)
The bottom line here is that Manchester United look clinical and Chelsea look undercooked. The Premier League leaders are playing like a team, while Chelsea look like a set of ill-fitting parts.
The divergence was in stark display on the weekend, where United, absent both Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney (suspended), took apart Fulham with surgical precision. Nani and the return of Antonio Valencia have given United ferocity and width, and the stalwart defending of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in front of the nearly-unbeatable Edwin van der Sar have the Red Devils looking like champions.
In contrast, Chelsea can’t even seem to agree on what system they want to play. Against Wigan, they showed a 4-3-3, and when that proved ineffective, went to a disjointed 4-4-2 and finally got rescued by Florent Malouda on a somewhat questionable goal. Fernando Torres still has yet to break his duck but has established himself as one of the greatest busts of this season. Didier Drogba is a shadow of his former muscular self and the comatose Nicolas Anelka looks like he has lost the will to live. Defenders? The best one, David Luiz, can’t play in the game. Pity poor Petr Cech, who is being made to look worse than he truly is.
Chelsea, of course, are playing for their season, but that seems to hinge on personal pride rather than any willingness on the part of the squad to save beleaguered Carlo Ancelotti’s neck. Ancelotti’s exit has long been rumored, and should the Blues crash here, they are most likely to finish without a major trophy for the first time since 2007-8. As it is, this is the worst season already for the team since the 2003-04 season that saw another Italian, Claudio Ranieri, get the sack. (In a bit of irony, Ancelotti’s probable destination is said to be Roma, recently managed by... Ranieri.)
Manchester United need no such inspiration. They have realistic dreams of a treble, and while they won’t find probable opponents Schalke a pushover, you better believe Sir Alex has tattooed the word "Wembley" onto their foreheads. Like the Red Devils or not, you have to give a team that wins games no matter how poorly they play a lot of credit.
Both teams are nearly fully fit, with Chelsea getting Alex and Yossi Benayoun back; the only doubt for United is Rafael, who trained on the weekend, but did not play against Fulham.
The winner of this tie will face either Schalke or Inter Milan, who play tomorrow.
SHAKHTAR DONETSK vs. BARCELONA (Barcelona leads 5-1; Shakhtar has an away goal)
Shakhtar lost their first home game since 2008 and first ever at Donbass Arena this weekend, an ill omen ahead of facing the consensus best club team on the planet. Not like you needed me to tell you that: down four goals after experiencing a master class at Camp Nou, the Ukrainians are playing for pride, and everyone knows it.
That doesn’t mean this might not be an entertaining game, for Shakhtar has some people who can play the game. Jadson, Luiz Adriano, Willian and Douglas Costa are legitimate attacking and creative talents. The problem is that Shakhtar leans too much on young defenders, and they make too many mistakes. 21-year old back Yaroslav Rakitskiy admitted as much in his pre-game remarks to the media Monday, and expressed concern that Dmytro Chygrynskiy will miss the game with an ankle knock, further depleting the side.
Shakthar will be missing two other key players, as well: captain Dario Srna was injured on the weekend in that league loss to Obolon Kyiv and will not play; Razvan Rat was booked in the first game and is suspended.
Barcelona are starting to look like the long season is catching up with them, but they remain a ferociously winning side nonetheless. Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi remain top class, and even the occasional flakiness of Dani Alves hasn’t dulled their stride.
Missing for them will be Bojan Krkic, who was injured on the weekend against Almeria and may not feature again this season. Also out are Eric Abidal, recovering from surgery on a liver tumour, and Carlos Puyol, who is likely to remain in Spain ahead of their league meeting with arch-rivals Real Madrid on Saturday.
The winner of this tie will face Real Madrid or Tottenham Hotspur, who play tomorrow. Real Madrid lead 4-0 in that tie.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.