LONDON - Fortress Old Trafford,
Chelsea's flat form and a welter of statistics point to
Manchester United advancing to the semi-finals of the Champions
League on Tuesday - yet one goal changes the whole tie.
United hold the whip hand following Wayne Rooney's goal in
their 1-0 quarter-final first-leg win at Stamford Bridge and in
most circumstances in the Champions League and for United, that
would be that.
Sir Alex Ferguson's team have lost one of their last 30 matches
in the competition at Old Trafford and none in the last six
years. They have progressed in all 16 European ties where they
won the first leg away from home.
This season they have conceded only two goals in nine
Champions League games while in the Premier League they have won
15 and drawn one of their home games.
Since the Champions league began only two sides have
recovered from a first-leg home defeat to win a knockout tie -
Ajax Amsterdam against Panathinaikos in 1996 and Inter Milan,
who recovered from a 1-0 defeat by Bayern Munich with a 3-2 win
in Germany last month.
Yet the particular nature of this all-English tie means that
such statistics are undermined in a game between two teams who
know each other so well.
Although Chelsea have won only one of five away games in
all-English Champions League ties, they won at Old Trafford in
the Premier League a year ago and know that they need only one
goal on Tuesday to swing the advantage their way.
Only two of the teams' last 12 competitive games have been
decided by more than one goal so both sides know the Londoners
are still very much in the tie.
"Of course Chelsea can do to us at Old Trafford what we've
done there," said Ferguson. "We've only got a one-goal lead and
we have to be very careful and give a top performance.
"It will be a tough game. The tie is not done."
Ferguson had the luxury of making eight changes from the
first leg for Saturday's Premier League game against Fulham and
those on duty came through unscathed - and barely out of breath - after a straightforward 2-0 win.
Antonio Valencia was on the scoresheet as he continues his
rapid rehabilitation from a broken ankle to offer the manager
plenty of attacking options after he decided to start with Nani
on the bench at Stamford Bridge.
United looked sharper all over the pitch in that game but
Chelsea could still easily have come away with a draw.
The Londoners looked off the pace again on Saturday as they
stumbled past bottom club Wigan Athletic 1-0- a team they
hammered 8-0 last May to clinch the title -- but have enough
talent in the squad to score against anyone, anywhere.
"Obviously we know it will be difficult to win there but we
have the confidence to do it, we did it last year," said manager
"We are at a disadvantage now but we played well (in the
first leg), we should have had a penalty, we hit the post."
Ancelotti's biggest headache is how to best use his trio of
front men - Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Fernando Torres,
who took his goal drought to 10 matches after coming off the
bench against Wigan.
The Italian started with Drogba and Torres in the first leg
in a 4-4-2 formation that seemed to squeeze the space from his
midfield and could well turn to Anelka this time and revert to
Florent Malouda, the scorer against Wigan, could also start
while centre-back Alex and midfielder Yossi Benayoun offer
further options after returning from injury.
Manchester United: 1-Edwin van der Sar; 21-Rafael da Silva,
15-Nemanja Vidic, 5-Rio Ferdinand, 3-Patrice Evra; 25-Antonio
Valencia, 16-Michael Carrick, 11-Ryan Giggs, 13-Park Ji-sung;
14-Javier Hernandez, 10-Wayne Rooney.
Chelsea: 1-Petr Cech; 2-Branislav Ivanovic, 33-Alex, 26-John
Terry, 3-Ashley Cole; 7-Ramires, 8-Frank Lampard, 5-Michael
Essien, 15-Florent Malouda; 39-Nicolas Anelka, 9-Fernando
Referee: Olegario Benquerenca (Portugal)
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