Champions League – Old Trafford Showdown one to savour

Back Page Football contributor Ger McCarthy analyses the second legs of the Champions League quarter finals taking place on Tuesday night with the Premier League showdown between Manchester United and Chelsea likely to produce an instant classic.

Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg
Old Trafford, Manchester
Manchester United vs. Chelsea
(United lead 1-0 on aggregate)

Reports suggesting Carlo Ancelloti has only 90 minutes to save his job as manager of Chelsea may have more than a grain of truth to them heading into a must-win fixture for the London side on Tuesday evening. Manchester United have totally eclipsed Chelsea this season by topping the Premier League standings at the time of writing and enjoy a 1-0 lead heading into the second leg of their Champions League quarter final.

Chelsea will have to produce the performance of an otherwise un-inspiring season to have any hope of overturning their first leg deficit. To achieve this goal Ancelotti must decide who to deploy as his two main strikers after Fernando Torres drew yet another blank when coming on as a substitute against Wigan Athletic at the weekend. Media reports suggest the Italian manager has been told on more than once occasion by the club’s Billionaire owner Roman Abramovich to include the January 50 million pound signing in the starting XI. Nikolas Anelka and Didier Drogba had formed a decent front two until the arrival of Torres forced Ancelloti to rotate his strikers. This decision is yet to bear fruit when you consider it took a solitary goal from midfielder Florent Malouda to see off relegation threatened Wigan at the weekend when in recent season’s the same opposition were dispatched 6-0 and 8-0. The bottom line is Chelsea desperately need their strikers to start scoring to have any hope of making the semi-finals.

Midfield proved a surprising problem area at home to United in the opening leg with Michael Essien and Frank Lampard kept quiet by the tenacity of Michael Carrick and Park Ji Sung. Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to drop Wayne Rooney back behind lone striker Javier Hernandez proved a masterstroke as the Chelsea midfielders spent most of the night trying to close down the space around Rooney rather than looking to get forward in support of their strikers. Lampard’s drop in form is not that surprising considering the England international is still recovering from a long term injury. A string of poor displays from Essien is much more worrying for Chelsea however as he was regularly the one player who drove them forward during previous Champions League campaigns.

One of the main reasons Chelsea just might upset the form book and knock United out of Europe’s premier competition will be their defence. Peter Cech is in a rich vein of form and it will take something special to beat the Chelsea number one. John Terry is certain to lead his side

Inspired by a fantastic individual performance from Wayne Rooney Man United were full value for their first leg win at Stamford Bridge last week. A cohesive and determined display earned a precious 1-0 victory with each United player contributing to an all-round superb team performance. In contrast, Chelsea looked clueless up front, confused around the middle of the park and devoid of the talents of David Luiz United were able to press the Londoners back for long periods of the tie.

The collective performances of Michael Carrick, Javier Hernandez and Park Ji Sung will have please Sir Alex Ferguson the most. On a night those players saw little of the ball they worked tirelessly to close Chelsea down from the opening minutes and never allowed the London side enough time on the ball to get their counter-attacking passing game going.

Rio Ferdinand’s return from injury proved a timely inclusion and alongside Nemanja Vidic the regular United centre-back pairing was the rock the Red Devil’s built their victory on. Add to the at the ageless Edwin Van der Sar producing a competent display between the sticks and it is United who will deservedly enter Tuesday evening’s second leg in rude health. A routine 2-0 win over Fulham at the weekend keeps Man United’s title aspirations bubbling along nicely and with Rooney in scintillating European form, Ryan Giggs rolling back the years with effective displays on either wing Sir Alex Ferguson has every reason to be confident of a semi-final berth.

Match Statistics
• United have progressed in all 16 UEFA competition ties where they won the first game away from home

• Of the 11 meetings in Manchester since 2001, United have won five and Chelsea four with two draws

• Chelsea’s quarter-final record in the competition is five wins and one defeat

• Chelsea are seeking a sixth UEFA Champions League semi-final appearance in eight seasons

• The head-to-head record between the clubs in all competitions is 68 wins for United, 44 for Chelsea and 47 draws

Match Verdict
Expect Chelsea to up their game considerably on a night nothing less than a victory will do to make it through to the Champions League semi-finals. Manchester United have seen it all before though and the experience of Giggs, Van der Sar and Ferdinand should be enough to ease the Old Trafford club into the last four of the competition.

Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg
Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Barcelona
(Barcelona lead 5-1 on aggregate)

Brief Review
Despite the lop-sided final score Shakhtar Donetsk gave a fine account of themselves in their 5-1 defeat at the Camp Nou last week. Barcelona grabbed the lead through a terrific Andreas Iniesta finish following good approach play from Lionel Messi. Even though the Ukrainians wer e1-0 down so early in the tie they responded superbly with Willian and Luiz Adriano wasting guilt-edge chances to level the scores.

The manner in which Mircea Lucescu’s side passed the ball and moved effortlessly through the Barcelona midfield had the home fans scratching their heads for a period. It took the magical dribbling skills of Messi and the never say die attitude of the Argentinean to reawaken the Barcelona players. Iniesta freed the in-rushing Dani Alves with a pin-point pass and the Brazilian right back finished with aplomb to push Barcelona 2-0 in front.

The home side’s defence – missing a host of first team regulars – found themselves under intense pressure for a time until Gerard Pique found space in a crowded penalty area and fired hoe for an unassailable 3-0 lead. Additional strikes from Kieta and Xavi put an unfair gloss on the final score but Donetsk deservedly got on the score sheet with Rakitskiy firing home.

Match Statistics
• To progress Shakhtar must do what only three clubs have previously managed in UEFA competition – overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit

• Prior to this season the teams had met seven times with Barcelona recording four wins to Shakhtar’s two with one draw

• Barcelona have won 10 of their 12 European Champion Clubs’ Cup quarter-finals

• Since moving into the Donbass Arena in September 2009 the Ukrainian titleholders have suffered only one defeat in all competitions

• Barcelona have won 36 of the 38 UEFA competition ties in which they won the first leg at home

Match Verdict
It would take the most monumental of shocks for Barcelona to fail to qualify for this season’s Champions League semi finals. Only three clubs have ever managed to overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit in the history of UEFA so Donetsk are effectively playing for pride on Tuesday evening. The Ukrainians have the ability to score an upset victory on the night but it is Barcelona who will progress to the last four of the tournament courtesy of their 5-1 first leg victory.

Author Details

Ger McCarthy
Ger McCarthy

Author of the book entitled 'Off Centre Circle'. Champions League correspondent for Back Page Football, contributor to the Hold The Back Page football podcast, also a contributor to the Irish Examiner Newspaper, SetantaSports Satellite TV Sports Network, NewsTalk National Radio station, Shoot! Magazine and Dangerhere websites.

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