Today will be the second time a European cup competition has been contested by two English clubs. The 1971-72 UEFA Cup saw Tottenham Hotspur defeat Wolverhampton 3-2 on aggregate.
The big news heading into today’s match is the knock Ashley Cole took in training but otherwise both clubs have a full roster to select from. Cole will be needed to help try and keep leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo quiet. For Chelsea, John Terry dislocated his elbow on the final day of the Premier League season, but seems to have made a stunning recovery to play. That is a major boost for Chelsea as their backline is simply not as strong without Terry back there. It will be interesting to see if Joe Cole gets a start or if Chelsea will go with three central midfielders.
Michael Ballack will be very important for Chelsea. His size will be needed on set pieces and he was the difference in a 2-1 win against United in the Premier League as the season wound down. He has developed an understanding with Frank Lampard and the two have been combining nicely down the stretch. Ballack’s form has improved over the course of the season and we’re finally seeing some of the class he showed for Bayern Munich and Germany so often in the past.
Sir Alex Ferguson wisely had injury-jinxed centre-back Nemanja Vidic train on his own on Tueday. Ferguson insists that he is to fit to start and has been on his own training program with his recent spate of injuries. The intrigue for United will be in midfield where there are many talents at Ferguson’s disposal. Paul Scholes, who missed the 1999 final through suspension, has been promised a place in the starting line-up and will line up beside Michael Carrick, who has been a fixture throughout the campaign.
However, it will be interesting to see what formation Ferguson decides to go with. Will he plays Owen Hargreaves in the middle to counter Lampard/Ballack or will he start with Ji-Sung Park to offer a wide threat. Hargreaves lifted the CL trophy in 2001 with former club Bayern Munich and has the experience edge over Park. Ryan Giggs seems likely to start from the bench but will get into the match at some point, allowing him to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s club record of 758 appearances.
The key man for United is Ronaldo, he has to make the most of his freedom to roam and create chances for his side. The other player to watch is Wayne Rooney, who always seems to have a strong match against Chelsea.
Sir Alex seemed to be in a relaxed mood during his press conference but he still managed to call a Spanish journalist an idiot (the journalist had asked SAF about the latest Ronaldo to Real Madrid rumour), and told another reporter from GMTV that she was nosy. The edge in experience and in-game adjustments has to go to SAF and that could play a large part in today’s proceedings. Chelsea – who boast six previous Champions League winners in their squad – have the experience edge.
I’ll be back after the game to give my thoughts on what happened and opinion on why they turned out the way the did.
Image taken from Associated Press.