Thursday, April 09, 2009

Could Fergie prediction come good after amazing night of Champions League action?

In the wake of the recent mind-numbing 4-1 defeat to Liverpool, Fergie went on record saying the winner of the Liverpool vs Chelsea Champions League tie would push United the hardest in the race for the title. My own view has always been that Arsenal who are set to play both United and Liverpool will have a big say in where the title ends up, that view hasn't changed.

However, Chelsea's 3-1 win at Anfield could have an adverse affect on Liverpool, because it wasn't just the result it was the manner of the defeat - it was all a little bit too easy for the West London club. Hiddink won the tactical battle hands down. It made United's 2-2 result with Porto the night before look like a good one, Benitez and Liverpool were out-thought before a ball had been kicked.

It hasn't taken Guus Hiddink long to make his mark on English football, it should be no surprise because the Dutchman is a solid tactician with donkeys years of experience managing at all levels of the game. I don't know why it has taken so long for it to happen, because to me this has been blindingly obvious for a number of weeks and following that 4-1 defeat at the hands of Liverpool I stated on this blog that United lost largely because Fergie didn't have a tactical plan to deal with Steven Gerrard. It is always easier said that done, but importantly Hiddink did have a plan and it centred on Michael Essien man marking the Liverpool skipper who as a result was completely ineffective, so much so that Gerrard had to drop back from his attacking role into a deeper position.

It will be interesting to see how Hiddink approaches the return leg next week, given that his team hold a 3-1 advantage; there’s no need for Chelsea to attack and take chances. It is therefore likely we will see a repeat performance from Essien who will once again likely to try to snuff out Gerrard's attempts at breaking unmarked into the Chelsea penalty area. You cannot allow someone with Gerrard's power and pace time and space to get at your defenders in one-on-one situations around the penalty area - that is suicide, as United found to their cost recently.

With any luck, a repeat performance from Chelsea will see Liverpool knocked-out of Europe and as a result their collective confidence could be shaken to the core and of course their next game will be at home to Arsenal.

Before that this weekend Liverpool face Blackburn and following the drama at Anfield Sky's pundits were last night suggesting that Big Sam Allardyce will have noted Essien's man-marking job on Gerrard - will we see a repeat this weekend with the former Bolton and Newcastle manager detailing a marker on the Liverpool skipper? Stating the obvious, but not every club has a player like Michael Essien, who was once linked strongly to United, the club could certainly do with someone like him right now with Hargreave's out injured.

In the other Champions League quarter final, Barcelona destroyed hapless Bayern Munich 4-0, the Bavarian club have shipped nine goals in two games. It turned out to be a first-half feast of goals at the Nou Camp, Barca created chances at will, so much so that it should have been a lot more.

Messi, Henry and Eto'o are in irresistible form at the present which is why Barca are the tournament favourites. The secret of Barcelona's success is moving the ball quickly on the deck and running off the ball, which makes it extremely difficult for visiting teams to mark Messi et al around the box. Looking back, it beggars belief that the current United defence didn't concede over two legs against the same Barca trio last season.

However, I for one have nagging doubts about the Barcelona back four. Chelsea or even Liverpool will give Barcelona a much tougher game in the semi-final and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if either of the English clubs wins through to the final.

Before all of that this coming weekend United take on Sunderland and it will be interesting to see what team Fergie sends out to battle, I'm expecting one or two stars to be rested ahead of the trip to Porto, we might even see Fredrico Macheda starting...

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