Date:Friday May 18 2007
Some say it's a battle between the irresistible force and the immovable object while others reckon injuries will decide the outcome.
Two teams dominated the domestic proceedings in England this season and now they will lock horns in the FA Cup Final. I don't think there's a living soul in Britain who is not aware of the that, as the Sky and the BBC talked up this contest as usual.
Some say the Cup has lost its romance, that only the top four have any chance of winning it so its unpredictability has gone, it's no longer a competition of great shocks and upsets.
I don't know if they're right or not, there's only one thing I know: for me, the FA Cup is still important. Having said that, I would have happily sacrificed earlier this season had someone guaranteed me a league title in exchange. Now that the latter has been secured, the hunger of a Double creeped upon me and I daresay that upon most of my fellow fans.
The FA and the media got their dream final and I don't know if fans would prefer a Watford v Blackburn battle, as a reminder of the old days. But a United v Chelsea is poised to be a more interesting affair than, say, the 2004 Cup final when the gulf in class was too obvious.
Now of course the two teams are very evenly matched - with fully fit squads. That is not the case, as you are all undoubtedly aware. United will be without skipper Gary Neville and striker Louis Saha but our problems are dwarfed by those of Chelsea: they will be without Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Andriy Shevchenko and probably John Obi Mikel and Ashley Cole. Mourinho will have limited options and that makes life easier for United and for me, as I prepare to take a look at the key duels that might decide the game.
Vidic v Drogba: Premiership's number one striker against Premiership's number one defender - one hell of a battle it will be. The Serbian came out well on top in November at Old Trafford and he's certainly got it in him to stop the Ivorian.
Ronaldo v Bridge and Giggs v Geremi/Ferreira/Diarra: It's painfully obvious that with Makelele shielding a central defender pairing of John Terry and Michael Essien, we'll have to dismantle them on the flanks. It's possible Rooney will play out wide if Smith gets the nod but I'd prefer Giggs and Ronaldo, swapping flanks often, to have a go at Chelsea's full-backs.
Scholes/Giggs v Makelele: Assuming we'll adapt a 4-2-3-1 formation then the man dropping off the lone striker will face Makelele. That could be either Giggs or Scholes but they will have to make things tick for us and Makelele will do his best to stifle them. Should be interesting.
We can win if we find a way down the flanks and find a way through Makelele. Chelsea will win if they can stifle our creative trio and provide good service for Drogba. I'm not at ease when thinking about the prospect of O'Shea or Brown facing Robben and Evra chasing Joe Cole but we must deny them width so their role will be important.
The referee is Steve Bennett - the man who I wanted to avoid desperately. Mourinho has already put some pressure on him when he asked him to sort out the divers during the game. Hopefully, that applies to Chelsea players, too...
Some psychological issues must be taken into consideration, too. Who will be more motivated? Well, if the Cup has really lost its glamour, then none of the two teams. If it still has its magic, then both will be hungry. Some say Chelsea will be desperate to make amends for losing the Premiership title and the Champions League failure so they will have that extra motivation while others claim that will put the pressure on Chelsea whereas United, having won the most important trophy, can relax a bit now, they have less to lose.
Once again, I can only say that I don't know. What I think is that both teams will have a great desire to beat the other for the sake of their pride at least. With all the comments to and fro, the so-called mind games during the league campaign, now the two teams are head-to-head in a significant game so I don't think motivation will make any difference between them.
And a prediction? No, that's beyond me. I dread a shoot-out so I hope it will be settled in normal time - in our favour, of course. Winning the first ever final played in the new Wembley, against Chelsea of all teams would be a fitting end to a memorable season - and we're capable of doing that.
Date:Friday May 18 2007
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