By FOX SPORTS staff
The Red Devils’ hopes of winning the treble were extinguished after their Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid, but the team’s commanding lead at the top of the Premier League ensures that a double is still within reach so long as they see off Chelsea in the clubs’ FA Cup quarter-final replay.
Rafa Benitez’s men did outstandingly well to turn their two-goal deficit around in the first game and will loathe for their cup defence to come to an end at the hands of their rivals in this replay. With their chances of silverware limited to the Europa League and the FA Cup, the Blues’ trophy-obsessed chairman will not take too kindly to Chelsea’s elimination from the competition either.
Predicted Starting XIs:
Chelsea: Cech, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz, Cole, Mikel, Ramires, Oscar, Mata, Hazard, Ba
Form guide: DWWDW
Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Carrick, Giggs, Valencia, Young, Rooney, van Persie
Form guide: DWWWD
Gary Cahill vs Wayne Rooney
The goals have dried up somewhat from Robin van Persie, but Wayne Rooney has continued to scrap together the odd strike against sides like Norwich and Reading, in addition to his goal against Chelsea earlier in March.
Cahill’s physical presence and intelligent reading of the game should prove handy as he attempts to stop one of Rooney’s bulldozing runs into Petr Cech’s penalty area, but the former Bolton man should also be wary of his compatriot’s ability to release stinging shots from distance.
Oscar vs Michael Carrick
Although he has showcased his abilities to pick a pass and score some spectacular goals, Oscar’s inconsistency has prevented him from staking a regular place in the Blues’ staring 11.
Should he be given the nod for this one, the Brazilian will come up against one of the most reliable of Red Devils in Michael Carrick and their contest to dictate the pace of the game could be highly influential on the score-line.
The former Tottenham player might struggle to contain Oscar once the 21-year-old starts one of his superb dribbles, so Carrick will look to sweep up loose balls and starve the Chelsea man of possession. Doubling up as Manchester United’s holding midfielder and part-time playmaker, the Englishman might even turn the tables on Oscar by having a hand in his team’s winner.
Eden Hazard vs Rafael
No longer the rash tackler he used to be, Rafael - who will undergo a late fitness test - has proven his maturity this season with some impressive defensive displays from his position at right-back. The 22-year-old’s rampaging runs up the flank have also seen him bag a couple of goals and assists, but Sir Alex Ferguson will likely instruct Rafael to curb his attacking instincts when facing Eden Hazard.
The Red Devils know exactly what the Belgian is capable of after Hazard inspired his team to a rousing comeback during the first game. A tricky dribbler boasting the speed of thought to match, the former Lille man’s recent form should see him start this one in a confident mood as Hazard looks to finish what he began.
Juan Mata vs Jonny Evans
Although Benitez looks to the trio of Oscar, Hazard and Juan Mata to carve open defences, the Euro 2012 winner shoulders slightly more responsibility than his colleagues. Chelsea’s overreliance on Mata has cost them at times this season, with the team seemingly incapable of finishing off supposedly inferior opposition when he is rested. As such, the Blues cannot afford for the former Valencia man to be off his game if they wish to secure a victory against Ferguson’s team.
The tough task of nullifying the threat posed by Mata will fall on Jonny Evans’ shoulders. With the Chelsea playmaker often seen venturing all over the attacking third when probing for defensive weaknesses, Evans must keep a close watch on any incisive balls put through from Mata, on top of countering his movement in and around the penalty area.