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CL Preview: Manchester United v. Chelsea

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A chance to exorcise demons from each of the last three seasons, perhaps against those very clubs which denied us then and still haunt us to this day. To reach a second Champions League final, one fittingly held in our own backyard. The opportunity to make history, to become the first club from London to lift this hallowed trophy, in the very city in which we reside.

The stars aligned. The players, they must rise from the ash.


Who: Manchester United
What: Champions League quarterfinal, second leg - 1-0 on aggregate
When: 12 April, 7:45pm local time (2:45pm EST)
Where: Old Trafford aka Theatre of Dreams aka House of 1,000 Nightmares (75,957)
How: Fox Soccer Channel (DirecTV 619, Dish 149)

Why: There hasn't been an easier answer to this question all season. The first-leg result has made it simple for us. Simple for everyone associated with the club. Just win. That's all that needs to be done. Yeah, all that needs to be done. This will no doubt be a mountainous task, but one we know this team can ascend. So why? I'll let Sir Alex Ferguson tell it.

"It does seem to be an obsession with Chelsea to win the European Cup," Ferguson said. That is why they signed Fernando Torres. The owner has every much nailed his colours to the mast in that respect. I have felt that for quite a while with him. To have an obsession of winning the European Cup is stretching yourself a wee bit. At the end of the day it is a very difficult competition to win."

As we know very well. Carlo may well be coaching for his job tomorrow.

The side
Choosing a team to do the unthinkable is, well, unthinkable. We need cohesiveness, drive, incisiveness and, of course, lethality in front of goal - something glaringly lacking in recent matches, particularly the opening leg. In short, we need a team that can do it all, and do it all better than good. This game defines our season; we must perform like it.

Regardless of risk, Alex must return to the first team. Bosingwa is far too much of a liability, as we all know, and we must have an aura of impermeability. Even a half-fit Alex gives us that in my mind. Say the Brazilian isn't ready to go, however. I would opt for Essien at right-back. He's proven himself to be competent in that position previously, and would make a far more useful option compared to the donkey that is Bosingwa. No disrespect, of course.

Four or three in the midfield? You know my answer. Mikel flanked by Ramires and Lampard. Lampard hasn't exactly been setting the world alight, but he still represents our best scoring option from midfield. Malouda returns after a somewhat promising display in the dullness that was Wigan to the left side, with Anelka responsible for the right in a free role. Torres starts alone in the center. Drogba was better in our last two matches, you say? And you would be right. I just feel that The Mighty One offers far more an impact than Nando in a reserve role. Further, Drogs has been excellent in the few times he's come off the bench. If we demand a spark, he can provide it. So, too, can Yossi. Speaking of substitutions: If changes are needed, they must be made in a timely manner. None of this waiting until around 70 minutes to seek a miracle. That's far too late, even if we only need a lone goal to force extra time. If it needs to be done on 40 minutes, then do it.

Here's my preferred XI. Dissect as you see fit.

Preferred XI

The approach
Reading the opening paragraph of this piece makes me want to sacrifice myself for the cause. Why our players failed to draw any more motivation than they did for the first leg is truly a vexer. An indictment of everyone - players, management, staff, and the like. Sure, we weren't entirely woeful - and we had our chances - but there was a distinct lack of drive for much of the night.

If the players cannot get themselves up for this encounter - pretty much a live or die scenario if you think of the potential changes coming in the summer - then they really must fuck right off.

I'm torn as to how I would like us to approach the opening stages. Do we go for broke, attack in waves in the hope that an early breakthrough arrives and United then panic their way out of the competition? Or do we display patience knowing that our gracious hosts will be seeking to effectively end the tie before halftime?

We really should attempt to combine the two: attack at pace when we can without compromising our shape, and thus opening ourselves up to the counter. Again, we only need one goal to leap right back into it so there's no need to throw the kitchen at them early, so to speak. It's that kind of hastiness that could cost us the tie inside 45 minutes.

As I said prior, the 4-3-3, for me, is crucial. No holding role in midfield leaves far to much space in the center for counters. With Nani almost a certain to start after his sterling show at the weekend, he could carve us to bits if we proceed with a flat four. Mikel must not only start, but also be disciplined. No early bookings.

The belief
How many people, Chelsea supporters included, thought we could overturn a 1-0 halftime deficit at Highbury in April 2004? We did. Who thought we stood a chance against mighty Liverpool in 2008? Not many, but we fucking did it.

I reference these two, among many, to cement the fact that this tie is not over. I repeat, this tie is not over.

I've read so many depressing comments regarding this second leg. It's yet to be played, but it's as if we've already lost. Nonsense. Get behind the lads, people. If they've ever needed us, it's now. As cliche as it sounds every time I hear it, we must keep the faith. We have the players required to make history. All they need is our backing to do so.

Chelsea may win. Chelsea may not. All we as supporters ask for is a proper fight from our boys. Give us that, and we'll be fine. Come on now. Let's have it. KTBFFH