Manchester United* 1-1 Chelsea – United win Champions League on penalties

Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea (Manchester United win 6-5 on penalties)
UEFA Champions League Final
21 May 2008 – Luzhniki Stadium – Moscow
Time: 20:45 (CET), 19:45 (UK), 23:45 (PK), 14:45 (EST).

Update: Get your Manchester United ‘Champions’ merchandise here.


Nothing that I can put into words can express the range of emotions that the players and the fans watching around the world went through during this game. Nothing anyone can say will ever capture the drama of the penalty shootout – Cech saving from Ronaldo, EVDS being beaten every time till Terry pumped it wide, coolness personified from Ryan Giggs to slot his penalty and then Edwin van der Sar’s save to win the Champions League.

It was madness – for United to take the lead, slip up, stagger from the return punch and then slip up again at the final hurdle – it took massive, massive balls to stay in there and while Terry will cop the responsibility from most sections, the game was there to be won for both sides in normal time.

Well played Chelsea – it was an absorbing and fitting finale to the season. When Mourinho left and Grant lost his first game to United, it seemed like their season was over but they came back strong and pushed United to the final hurdle. No other team in the Premier League currently has the quality or the spirit to do this, well done.

Fantastic stuff from Manchester United – defeat here wouldn’t have taken anything away from a great season but victory and the league and european cup double serves to highlight the spirit and tenacity of this United side. Few teams recover from the horror start they had to the season – to go on and win the double is fantastic.

I’m off to celebrate 🙂 Glory Glory Manchester United!!!

Manchester United v Chelsea Preview

The 2007/2008 season will end like it started – with Chelsea and Manchester United scrapping for bragging rights as the best team in England. United have won the Premier League but for both clubs the Champions League holds a greater significance.

The various stats, trivia, historical links and significant milestones have been done to death – if you want a comprehensive list please download the press kit from UEFA (PDF).

Both teams will hold a press conference on Tuesday evening before their respective training sessions, something that will give us a good picture of prospective starting lineups. As Grant said, this won’t be a platform for tactical surprises so expect something similar to what you’ve seen at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge this season – both teams tight at the back and pushing forward in numbers when they get the chance.

United have, in recent matches against Chelsea, Arsenal and sometimes even Liverpool, have had a weak center that’s been unable to hold it’s own and as a result the team is often pinned back, although that does allow United to play on the counter and create opportunities as we’ve seen against Liverpool and Arsenal. In fact at Emirates United were quite positive (as they were at Old Trafford against Chelsea, even before the red card) and I hope we’ll see that again in Moscow with a strong midfield standing up to Chelsea and pushing them back instead of being pinned outside the penalty area.

If you’re aching for pretty triangles, you’re in the wrong place. The end product of the two sides’ playing styles is a battle of physical attrition split by the odd mistake or moment of brilliance, and unless one team plays shockingly poor you’ll see a fairly even game decided by the odd goal. The stakes – this time worth more than just the financial rewards – are too high for this game to be an aesthetic showpiece where opponents are allowed the time and space to conjure magic for their TV audience.

Manchester United Watch

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Rooney will kill himself to be fit for this game, so expect him to play.

A Champions League final, especially the club’s first in 9 years, is no place for emotion or goodbyes. Still, Giggs and Scholes have little value as impact players and one of them will probably start seeing that Fergie will probably play a 4-5-1/4-3-3 with Rooney on the left and 3 central midfielders (Carrick is the only certain starter IMO) to match Chelsea’s physical strength down the middle.

Potential starting lineup: EVDS, Brown, Rio, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Hargreaves, Scholes, Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez

I’d rather see Anderson there instead of Scholes (based purely on his energy levels and the fact that both Carrick and Hargreaves can be creative outlets if given that role), but Scholes gives United a better option in terms of goal-scoring / goal-creating opportunities than Anderson, and I’m pretty sure this game will have both managers looking to score as opposed to sitting back and waiting for mistakes.

Chelsea Watch

John Terry and Didier Drogba, like Wayne Rooney, would walk through walls to play in the Champions League final and you can expect both of them to be fit barring a serious problem. Both players are central to Chelsea’s chances of success against United here and their presence will be a psychological and physical bonus for their teammates. Carvalho should be back as well.

Other than that, the Coles, Ballack, Lampard, Essien and Cech would also start, leaving only the right-back (if Essien takes up a midfield berth) and the second striker / winger position up for grabs, and I’d put that to either Kalou or Malouda.

Make of the Chelsea side what you will, but I don’t think Bosingwa is the answer Chelsea are looking for at right-back. He might do an Evra / Vidic and surprise everyone, but what are the odds?

Regardless of what happened in the league, Chelsea go into the Champions League final as slight favourites, if only because of their superiority in central midfield, and I’d expect Grant to capitalise on that.

Predictions

If there was ever a time for United’s star kids (Ronaldo and Rooney, I’m looking at you) to stand up and answer their critics, this is it.

No predictions though – Chelsea or Manchester United, just keep in mind that it’s been a good season for both clubs.