After a difficult weekend for both Chelsea and Manchester United as defeats and red cards were in abundance, their minds must quickly turn to home ties in the Champions League. Chelsea drew the first leg 1-1 at a hostile Türk Telekom Arena – home to Galatasaray – whilst Manchester United scuppered to a 2-0 defeat to an Olympicacos side who are imperious at home. Can they make it through or will all 4 English sides fall at the first knockout hurdle in Europe?
Chelsea’s defeat at weekend was a shock, but the reaction made by a Mourinho side less so. A team managed by the Portuguese coach have history of losing their heads when decisions go against them and the opposition ruffles their feathers; Galatasaray will have noticed this and hope to have a similar reaction.
Often a hardworking team with the midfield pressing their opponents and defending all over the pitch, the low ground duel win percentage by Chelsea midfielders show the struggles they had against Aston Villa – this will be needed in order to the win the battle in an area that was matched in Turkey. In the first leg, Roberto Mancini made a first half substitution in response to the domination that Chelsea were beginning to build due to their 3-man midfield and prevented the London side from playing as the game slipped with Galatasaray still in match ending into Wednesday night.
Chelsea will know all about the threat of Didier Drogba on his first return to Stamford Bridge and John Terry, who has arguably been the best centre-back in the Premier League this season, will have the task of dealing with the Ivorian. Dominant in the air and confident in possession, the clash between the two former team mates will be a key battle in the match.
Despite not having a free-scoring striker in their squad this season, Chelsea have still managed to occupy the top spot in the league. This is down to the impressive talent that lies behind the striker as Hazard, Oscar and Willian have all excelled. Eden Hazard especially has shone for Chelsea, and the Belgian attacker can win games on his own. Top goal scorer and chance creator, Hazard will look to attack Galatasaray’s full backs, where they are weak, with his direct running and quick feet. If the runners from midfield and chosen striker time their movement correctly they can take advantage of Hazard beating the full back and tuck away any low crosses that find themselves driven inside the Turkish side’s 18-yard box.
Before their defeat in Greece a couple of weeks ago, United had been unbeaten in Europe under Moyes and this had been his saving grace. Now however, a lacklustre and woeful performance against Liverpool has seen the real possibility that Moyes could be sacked by United who have been reluctant to be like other modern clubs after a poor run.
The ineligibility of Juan Mata and a defence that crumbles easier than a poorly constructed sandcastle makes Wednesday’s match a pivotal moment in Moyes’ era at Old Trafford – there could be redemption if United fail unspectacularly yet again.
Olympiakos will set up with a tight defence and look to again the Red Devils on the counter as they hope to knick a away goal that all but surely seal their qualification for the next round. Manchester United have looked short of ideas when trying to break teams down this season, with play often focused predominately down the wings.
Much has been made of the amount of crosses United have made – most notably by former Red Devils coach Rene Meulensteen after Fulham’s 2-2 draw at Old Trafford – and it is hard to disagree as the lack of diversity when attacking has been a huge problem. Manchester United have been known for attacking down the wings for years under Sir Alex Ferguson, but when you compare the likes of Ronaldo, Beckham, and a younger Giggs with the current wingers Young, Valencia, and Nani the difference in quality is huge.
A static midfield which offers no drive is also a problem and was evident in the first leg as Olympiacos were full of energy in the centre of the park as they continuously pressed and hassled. The partnership of Carrick and either Cleverley or Fellaini that is likely to start will need to play a higher tempo to pull the Greek side out of position and allow Rooney and Van Persie to take advantage.
Wayne Rooney – who described Sunday as “one of his worst days in football” – had his worst performance of the season and will need to step up for his team. The England international has been one of the few positives on the pitch this campaign and if it wasn’t for an injury during the end of 2013 he would have had more than 13 goals in all competitions.
With the current goings-on at Manchester United, you just can’t see them pulling off the result they need against a Olympiakos in buoyant mood after they won the Greek title at the weekend. Chelsea on the other hand, barring another implosion on the pitch, will be the solitary English side left in the Champions League.