Carlo Ancelotti must react to save Chelsea
It was built up as revenge for Moscow, that disastrous night in Chelsea’s history. If that wasn’t enough motivation, favourite son Frank Lampard was appearing in Chelsea blue for the 500th time. Surely the scale of the competition itself would fire up the West Londoners.
It was not to be. Chelsea was defeated by a clinical and efficient Manchester United side. Led by the ultimate pragmatist in Sir Alex Ferguson, United came to a ground where they hadn’t won in ten games, and stole the show.
Wayne Rooney’s first half goal was all that separated the two sides on the night.
Credit has to go to Manchester United, they took the chance that came their way and defended stoutly. Sir Alex reacted to the situation in front of him, noticing the need for a physical defensive line and pace up front.
Ji Sung Park was lauded by his manager after the game as a brilliant tactician. The Korean was part of an industrious United midfield who made Chelsea stutter in their attempts for an equalizer.
Ryan Giggs showed his eternal class and Wayne Rooney silenced his critics. The cup-tied David Luiz couldn’t spark another Chelsea revival.
Ferguson came to the bridge longing for an away goal. He got his wish on the half hour and then ordered his team to hold their defensive structures.
United were lucky to an extent; their only real attempt on goal went in off the woodwork. Chelsea were less fortunate with Didier Drogba’s free kick causing commotion inside the united box, not to mention the blatant penalty not awarded as Patrice Evra chopped down Ramires’ foray into the area.
Carlo Ancelotti, normally the respectable type, questioned the referee’s character in not awarding the penalty. It is difficult to argue with the Italian, given the obvious nature of the decision.
In the 92nd minute of a Champions League quarter-final, against a manager whose treatment of referees in the past month has been nothing short of terrible, it takes a strong personality to award those ones.
However, it is only half-time in this tie, and while United hold a valuable advantage, a repeat of Chelsea’s title-clinching 2-1 victory at Old Trafford last year would still be enough to send the Blues through.
The papers will tell how Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea future is now riding on a stunning turnaround up in Manchester. It is sad if this is true, as the Italian has brought his natural charisma to the club.
Aside from his brilliant efforts in winning the League and FA Cup double last season, he has created a strong culture around a club Luiz Felipe Scolari last week said was impossible to manage.
There is no denying this is a big week for the former AC Milan manager. His side seem in the right frame of mind, but a tactical sharpness is lacking.
The papers will also lambast Fernando Torres for an 11th Chelsea appearance without a goal, though the Spaniard has continued to look lively in blue. The reality is, he cannot play with Didier Drogba.
Two centre forwards at the front of a 4-4-2 was a flawed plan from the start, but Ancelotti’s failure to react to the striking problem may cost him his future.
The double was won last year in a 4-3-3 and Chelsea has won eight major trophies in six years employing the system. Ahead of the second leg, Chelsea must revert back to the formation which has provided them with so much success.
It’s a tough call to make, especially considering a very wealthy Russian is keen to see his 50-million-pound investment reap its rewards. In the long term, Torres is the future of Chelsea. Do not be surprised if the ageing Drogba leaves in the summer – a Marseille homecoming could be on the cards.
But for next Tuesday, one of them has to be warming the Old Trafford bench. Nicolas Anelka has learnt to adjust to life on the right side of a front three, and must be employed in this role again. Florent Malouda has had a horrible season, but the Frenchman possesses skill and pace which Yuri Zhirkov does not; he must play on the left.
Frank Lampard was largely quiet in his 500th Chelsea appearance; one feels he is given more freedom to roam in the 4-3-3 system.
Didier Drogba is the likely choice up front. The substitution of the Ivorian last night produced disbelieving groans from the Stamford Bridge faithful, after a productive albeit unspectacular 70 minutes.
Whilst Drogba will be the short-term option in a match of such significance. Bright future aside, a 25-minute cameo may be the plan for Torres, perhaps unleashed on a tiring Nemanja Vidic.
Chelsea must regroup and realise that this tie is far from over. The manager is a popular figure around the club and with fans, but Roman Abramovich’s patience is waning. Ancelotti’s future is on the line; he must react.
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