Everything is still up for grabs heading into the second leg and it should be an exciting two days of CL football.
Chelsea v Liverpool
The snarky remarks continue to be tossed around by both managers with Benitez now sinking to Mourinho’s level and making the remarks more personal. I wrote on the EPL Community site that both needed to really focus on more important things but evidently they are not readers of my blog yet 🙂
Anyhow, to matters on the field. Chelsea may rue not scoring a second goal at home. The difference maker could again be Didier Drogba whose pace and physical presence up front unsettled the Liverpool defence. Benitez admitted his team did not know how to cope with Drogba. Chelsea have a couple of injury worries in Michael Ballack and Ricardo Carvalho. With Carvalho out that would mean another emergency start at centre-back for Michael Essien. While he has been very admirable in filling in, centre-back is clearly not Essien’s strongest position. He is better suited for the defensive midfield role in which he excels. The other possible partner for John Terry is Paolo Ferreira. Either way, the Liverpool forwards may have some hope of getting some quality chances.
Both teams struggled at the weekend but they were resting players ahead of this fixture. It was more costly to Chelsea as they lost ground in the race for the Premiership title and that psychological blow may carry over into this game. On the whole, I expect another very tightly contested match as Liverpool will not want to concede an away goal. Both sides are capable of playing attractive football but their coaches tend to be conservative (some pundits would even say they are purveyors of negative football) in their approaches to big matches. It would not surprise me in the least if this tie required extra-time or even penalties to decide it.
Manchester United v AC Milan
The first leg of this tie was by far the more entertaining and I don’t doubt the second will be similar. Milan cannot sit back and defend for the whole match as they currently trail by a goal. The best thing for this game would be an early United goal to turn the pressure up on Milan to attack and come forward with the ball.
Some promising news for Manchester United as defensive duo Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand both flew out to Milan on Tuesday morning. United boss Sir Alex Ferguson will likely wait until the last minute to decide whether to name them in his Champions League semi-final line-up. With Patrice Evra suspended, the odds are at least one of them will play (more likely Ferdinand), allowing Gabriel Heinze to switch to the left-back role at which he has been more adept. Heinze, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Scholes are all one yellow card away from a ban, which would mean they’d miss the finals should United progress.
The only player who is doubtful for Milan is defender Paolo Maldini. He sustained a knee injury in the opening leg and his chances of playing on Wednesday are considered slim.
An absolute key for Manchester United will be limiting Kaka and Seedorf’s roles. If they hope to go through they will need to deny those two time on the ball and limit the number of free-kicks they give up around their own area so they do not fall victim to Pirlo’s set-piece wizardry. For Milan, it will be critical to limit Cristiano Ronaldo’s time and space, though that is easier said than done. Additionally, if Milan can press forward and limit the ability of Carrick and Scholes to support the forwards, the Rossoneri may be on their way to Athens.
I can’t wait for this one, it should be another thriller.