United v Chelsea - One Of The Unwatchables
Jorge Valdano famously compared the Liverpool v Chelsea semi-final in 2008 to a shit on the stick. Valdano's words stirred quite a reaction but in all honesty, they could be applied to most of United v Chelsea and United v Liverpool games as well.
It's almost impossible to play football against these teams as they are set up to nullify and choke the midfield, to squeeze the life out of the opponent and wear them down with constant pressing and harassing. They are, without a doubt, the two most frustrating teams in Europe.
We beat Liverpool in a low-quality game and now Chelsea come to town. It's a classic top-of-the-table super clash, billed as a title decider: after all, first host second, with one point separating them. Will it be exciting, tense, nerve-racking? Probably. Will it be of a high quality? I have my doubts.
Of course, it depends on what you call quality. At Stamford Bridge in November, two well-organised teams fought with each other in a game that was of a high tactical and even technical standard. But it was low on flair and on chances and it always is when these two meet. I'd go as far as say that the 2008 European Cup final was the exception rather than the rule.
Even when we beat them 3-0 last season, the game was a tight affair until the first goal and it's not like we had zillions of chances afterwards. It was a straightforward home win, yes, and a very impressive performance but again, hardly the dream of neutrals. The last really enjoyable game between Chelsea and United, the European Cup aside, was probably the 2-2 draw in 2002 (honourable mention to their 2-1 win in April 2008 but that was a little surreal as we knew we could afford to lose that).
Chelsea changed under Ancelotti, they try to play expansive attacking football and they do it rather well but the core of the squad is still there and Ancelotti himself is no stranger to trying to suffocate the opposition away from home. So I expect another tense, nerve-racking game, low on chances - and I hate these games because when you're deprived of the enjoyment that football gives you the sheer terror and nerves are all what remain, especially in a game as important as this.
I am always more relaxed during games against Arsenal, for example, than against Liverpool or Chelsea because I know that even though they pose a real threat every time they go forward I also know that we can score any time. Games against Arsenal are usually really open, there are chances and that, somehow, dissolves the naked fear a little.
So, I'm expecting another gritty, low-scoring affair where tactical organisation comes first, not goalscoring... but obviously I'd settle for a scrappy, unwatchable 1-0 win right now. It's just that my nerves will be shot by the end in case of such a scenario...