CHELSEA vs MANCHESTER UNITED
Stamford Bridge, London
01 April 2013, 12:30 GMT
Referee: Phil Dowd (ENG)
Stamford Bridge will be the scene of another scintillating match between Chelsea and Manchester United, but this time a different duel will take place at the benches of respective teams.
The fact is that irrespective of the last shake or no shake of hand incident at Old Trafford, Rafa Benitez will be under pressure from home supporters after playing an ‘under-strength’ side which lost to Southampton. Benitez made seven changes at St. Mary’s and will look to rotate once more with one eye on the Europa League tie with Rubin Kazan on Thursday. Sir Alex Ferguson too likewise rested several of his key players on Saturday against Sunderland and will have a good squad to choose from. The Red Devils once again grind out a narrow but a comfortable win over relegation strugglers Sunderland, a result which ended Martin O'Neill’s reign at the Stadium of Light. With so much at stake in probably the biggest game of the year to date in England (not to forget next Monday’s Manchester derby), both managers will put forth their best starting XIs in an effort to advance to the tournament’s semifinals and a date with defending league champions Manchester City on April 14 at London’s Wembley Stadium.
For first-place United (25-2-3), winning the Premier League is a foregone conclusion now, as it sits 15 points above Manchester City. Better known for their offensive prowess, the Red Devils and goalkeeper David de Gea have now registered six straight clean sheets in top flight play and will come into West London confident for this showdown. Chelsea (16-7-7, 55 points) suddenly finds itself in fourth place in the league table, two points behind third-place Tottenham Hotspur (57 points) and two points ahead of fifth-place Arsenal (53) in what is shaping up to be a fierce fight between the three big London clubs for those last two Champions League qualifications spots. Although this game is important for the Red Devils, it is probably much more important to defending FA Cup champion Chelsea, which desperately needs to do something positive after a season that will see the beleaguered Blues play a record number of games and possibly come up with no silverware at all.
Rafael Benitez played a ‘weak’ Chelsea side on Saturday which lost to Southampton playing a midfield trio of Oscar, Victor Moses and Marko Marin together for the first time. Benitez will cut on his experiments for this crunch clash and will most likely favour experience. With Gary Cahill (Knee) still a major doubt for this game, Ivanovic will likely partner David Luiz at the back with Cesar Azpilicueta and Ashley Cole flanking the right and left side of the defensive lines respectively. Juan Mata is likely to return after missing the loss at the weekend through illness with Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Oscar and Hazard completing the impressive midfield. Fernando Torres might get a re-call on Thursday night against Rubin Kazan with Demba Ba being Cup-tied, so expect the Big Senegalese Striker to test United’s defenders.
Match Squad (4-2-3-1): Cech (Gk), Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole, Ramires, Mikel, Mata, Hazard, Oscar, Ba
Sir Alex Ferguson will make several changes to the team that beat Sunderland on Saturday however they should still field a relatively strong side. Anders Lindegaard could make an appearance in goal but looks unlikely as David De Gea seemed okay after a nasty clash with Nemanja Vidic. The Spaniard might be the final choice and will have Evans and Ferdinand in front of him as the two likely centre backs. Smalling might once again replace Rafael at right back after the Brazilian suffered a groin strain at the weekend. Evra will be re-called after resting on the bench on Saturday. Michael Carrick will partner Tom Cleverly in the centre of the midfield and Nani and Giggs might be needed at opposite wings. Robin Van Persie played the whole 90 minutes at the Stadium of Light and will probably be on the bench for this one while Javier Hernandez is expected to earn a re-call and will partner Wayne Rooney up front due to the Mexican’s fantastic scoring record against Chelsea.
Match Squad (4-4-1-1): De Gea (Gk), Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Cleverly, Giggs, Rooney, Hernandez
This will be the eleventh FA Cup tie between Chelsea and Manchester United; The Red Devils leas the head-to-head record eight wins to two, although Chelsea did win the last meeting (the 2007 final)
The only previous sixth round meeting between United and Chelsea in the FA Cup is also the only previous tie between the sides to go a replay; after a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, the Red Devils won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge to progress in their treble wining season (1998/99)
Chelsea have only lost one of their last 39 FA Cup games outright, winning 31 and drawing seven.
Indeed, the Blues are unbeaten in 28 FA Cup games (excluding penalty shootouts), the longest ever run without defeat by a single side.
Javier Hernandez has scored in six of the last seven meetings between the Red Devils and the Blues.
Juan Mata has scored five goals and assisted eight in just 11 appearances in the FA Cup.
All statistics courtesy of Eurosport.