United v Chelsea - The Midfield Battle
It is pretty difficult to come up with a decent analysis of how the midfield battle in the Champions League final will pan out. The biggest problem is that we can`t be certain who the managers will select.
As for Chelsea, I expect their three-man midfield will consist of Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele and Michael Ballack with Michael Essien filling in at right-back again. I`d be surprised if Mikel got the nod as a starter at Makelele`s expense.
It`s even more difficult to predict United`s midfield. I can only share my guess: Scholes, Hargreaves and Carrick will start. Scholes` place is secure and as Carrick was a mainstay in the last two months I can`t see him missing out. Hargreaves`s case is more difficult but with Anderson seemingly falling out of favour he seems to be the more realistic option.
That means we will have two silky passers whose distribution is better than that of any Chelsea player. Yet the sheer strength, the physicality of the Blue midfield can cause us untold problems. Though neither of the three is particularly quick, Lampard and Ballack have great stamina and run amazing amounts whereas Makelele`s reading of the game is second to none.
Hargreaves is quicker than anyone Chelsea have to offer in midfield (bar Essien but he should be at right-back) but as Scholes and Carrick have no real pace he`ll have on hell of a task. Containing Chelsea`s attacking midfielders will be down to Hargreaves having a good game. If he does not find rhytm we`ll be in serious trouble.
If Fergie starts with Ronaldo and Tevez then Rooney will have opportunities to drop deep and with him United can pass the ball round Makelele which is essential if we ever want to score. But if we do we can expect that the Frenchman comes off and Essien moves into midfield as he did against Arsenal to great effect.
Fortunately, we`ll probably have two energetic, hard-working midfielders on the bench and though not many United fans give him credit for it but Darren Fletcher is really a big-game player and I would have no problem if he came on at one point to shore up things in midfield. He`s infinitely more experienced than Anderson who probably carries greater potential so I expect Fergie to turn to the Scotsman if help is needed in the middle of the park. Given Chelsea`s stamina and Scholes`s age, I`m pretty certain that at least one midfielder will be substituted sooner or later…
However, if we need to be more attacking then Anderson is the better option - but after the games against West Ham and Wigan, I`m not certain that the boss is prepared to give him the chance.
Anyway, the real problem with these predictions and analysises is that the game will probably be decided by a moment`s loss of focus or a piece of bad luck… hopefully not the latter because then Chelsea will win.