It’s Manchester United vs Chelsea and Drogba

first_imgThere are some big beasts in the Chelsea jungle. But there is only one top dog – and that is Didier Drogba. Following Fernando Torres’ deadline-day switch, a pack of feared predators have been queuing up to bare their teeth at the point of the attack.But on the evidence of the audition for Tuesday’s season-hinging match at Manchester United, only Drogba has the bite to compliment the bark.Chelsea’s center-forward required careful guarding against Wigan Athletic. He ran the channels, bashed defenders out of the way in a manner in which only he can, created space for others with smart movement and banged in shots from all angles whenever he had a sniff of goal. In manager-speak, he put in a shift.He was also wasteful, too, in his desire to breach the dam erected by Roberto Martinez and prove he is lord of the manor at the Bridge. Excellent free-kick positions were wasted and team-mates were sometimes ignored as he strove in search of something that would guarantee his master’s approval.Carlo Ancelotti claims he already knows his team and the system he will play at Old Trafford in the quarter-final second leg. He provided a big hint by binning 4-4-2 and starting with the 4-3-3 formation that has been Chelsea’s bread and butter since the Jose Mourinho days.Drogba alone up front, Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda either side of him and a three-man midfield patrolled by Frank Lampard, Ramires and John Obi-Mikel. Like John Terry, who was not in the matchday squad, Torres and Michael Essien were ‘rested’.As a dress rehearsal, it can be said to only have been a partial success. By the end of the first half, as Chelsea searched for greater cutting edge, Anelka was playing alongside Drogba. At half-time, the ineffective Mikel was withdrawn and Yossi Benayoun was summoned from the bench for his first Chelsea appearance since September 22. By that point, it was back to the 4-4-2 formation originally introduced to shoehorn Torres into the starting XI.Anelka made way for the Spaniard a third of the way into the second period after linking well with Drogba but failing to offer the kind of threat of which he is capable.Torres’ 31-minute performance was a considerable improvement on his previous 617 minutes in the blue shirt. He was industrious, lively and found himself in some excellent goalscoring positions.There was everything but the goal. How the Bridge willed him to break his Chelsea duck. Malouda’s goal coaxed Wigan out of their half and provided the kind of space behind the centre halves that would have been an amusement park for the Torres of two years ago.One Drogba cross narrowly avoided his lunging body. A long ball from the back sent him clear on goal but Torres’ first touch, not for the first time in a desperate 10 weeks in west London, let him down.With the clock counting down, Benayoun side-footed a short pass into his path in the penalty area with no Wigan defenders in sight. The crowd held its breath as Torres shaped to pull the trigger. Surely, this would be it. Torres’ connection with the outside of his right boot was true. The ball was heading for the back of the net. But Ali Al Habsi, whose reflexes had been in good working order all afternoon, stretched out his arm at the last millisecond and diverted the ball to safety. It was a mighty fine save but something is still missing for the Chelsea No. 9.You feel Torres in his 2007-09 pomp would not have given Al Habsi the opportunity to show off his athleticism.With his job and legacy possibly depending on the outcome of the Champions League quarter-final, Ancelotti cannot afford to indulge Roman Abramovich’s marquee signing from the start on Tuesday.For the Italian, it has to be Drogba leading the line, with two creators either side of him. Just the way the Ivorian likes it. The support act is not one that suits him or Torres. They both have to be the main man.Malouda is likely to get the nod over Yuri Zhirkov as Saturday’s Spring sunshine reawakened the player that had laid dormant for six months. Yossi Benayoun is fit to start after making his first appearance for Chelsea since September 22 on Saturday but it would represent a gamble by Ancelotti to prefer him to Anelka, whose versatility and awareness should guarantee him a starting point. He is also the club’s leading scorer this season with 16 goals.Poor Salamon Kalou, scorer of nine goals this season – the same as Torres – will once again be shunted out to the sidelines.Whatever the future of the Big Four strikers holds beyond this season, Ancelotti must concentrate on the here and now. It will suit Chelsea, and perhaps Torres too, for the club’s record signing to be an impact substitute against United’s tiring defenders.That means letting the club’s top Drog off the leash from the first minute.Credit: Goal.com Manchester United vs Chelsea is live on Joy Sports and Adom TV all on Multi TV on Tuesday April 12, 2011 from 6:15 pm. Kick off is at 6:45 pm.last_img

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