My initial reaction on seeing that we were paired with Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals?
Perhaps due to my half-awake state, it hit me harder, but there was an immediate – and audible – negative reaction. I wasn’t disappointed because I felt it was a bad draw, but I was disappointed because this was actually the last draw I wanted United to land, at least for the quarters.
It may not apply for all, but one of the many reasons why I enjoy the Champions League is because it presents the opportunity to see matchups we don’t get to see on a regular basis. Of course, the semifinals and final leave that possibility open, but my superstitious side prevents me from looking that far ahead yet. So, on that note, it’d have been nice to have been drawn against Shakhtar, Schalke, or even Real Madrid.
The idea of playing Chelsea four times in the stretch of a couple of months is a little much, not least because that means having to see John Terry’s ugly mug and Ashley Cole’s smug mug far too often.
But after clearing out the cobwebs and thinking about it a little more, I actually like it. True enough, it might be a matchup better suited for the semis, if more in name and stature than in respect to quality this season, but it guarantees that there won’t be any concerns about complacency or looking ahead another round.
At this juncture of the season, I feel like it’s a lot better to be severely tested than not. This season, there’s been reason to wonder where some players’ minds might be and if they haven’t been as focused as they need to be, but there won’t be any room for complacency once April hits. Over the course of a month, we’ll have three meetings with Chelsea, a visit to Arsenal, an FA Cup semifinal against City, a visit from an Everton side who are always capable of springing a surprise, and, if all goes well, a Champions League semifinal, perhaps against the reigning European champions. There’s not a lot of opportunity to switch off mentally, with all that’s at stake on three fronts, and that lends well to avoiding the mistakes and mental lapses that have reared their heads this season.
As tough of a matchup as it is, it’s also one of the more favorable ones, considering that we could’ve been drawn with Barcelona or Real Madrid, both of whom we’d be underdogs against.
There aren’t any surprises when it comes to this matchup as there would be if we were facing, say, Shakhtar. The team will know what to expect in terms of the personnel, we know what to expect in terms of the atmosphere, and I don’t expect, or at least foresee, any serious tactical wrinkles that Carlo Ancelotti could throw at us.
We don’t have to go into Stamford Bridge looking for a win, but there’s every reason to be confident that we can come away with an away goal and a positive result. When we faced Chelsea the first time earlier this month, we did a lot of things right, namely going at them and testing them from the outset. It resulted in a first-half goal, and we should’ve had more than just the one.
Will we follow that same approach when we make a European visit to Stamford Bridge? It defies what we normally see from United in Champions League away matches, but when you know something can be and has been effective, it’s not a bad idea to give it a go.
If we can come out of the first leg with an advantage or, at worst, down 2-1, you have to fancy our chances of being able to seal the deal at home. Chelsea certainly won’t be intimidated by the trip to Old Trafford, but it’s been a fortress for us in Europe and overall, and I don’t see us letting a repeat of last season’s cruel exit at home occur, especially against a fierce rival.
It will certainly aid our cause that, by that time, Valencia will be, or at least should be, able to start, Park and Anderson will both be fit and available to play a role if needed, and Chelsea won’t have the services of David Luiz, who will be cup-tied.
Redundant as it may be to face Chelsea four times within the span of a couple of months, I’m looking forward to it, and I think we’ve an excellent chance of progressing to the semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons.
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