The biggest football match of all time?
As the world holds its breath, Cazza evaluates the relative strengths of the key Manchester United and Chelsea performers.
Tony Cascarino, 17 May 2008
The fact that Man Utd and Chelsea are on level points in the Premiership and set to meet in the Champions League final means we are in for a terrifically exciting finish to the season. They have been the two finest sides in England over the past few years, and it is fitting that they will end the season squaring off for two of the most prestigious titles in football.
It some ways, it is a slightly surprising conclusion to the season, given that in the period following Jose Mourinho’s departure, Chelsea appeared to be in some turmoil. They lost the Carling Cup Final, a game which saw Avram Grant make some highly questionable tactical decisions, and there appeared to be significant unrest in the camp. Even during their recent impressive run, tensions have surfaced – Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba had a run-in during the Premiership victory against Man Utd, for example.
In addition, they looked a bit ropey against Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, and it was only a very late own-goal by John Arne Riise that secured them a 1-1 draw, without which they would have lost the tie. But Chelsea have battled very hard and are now in with a real chance in both the Premiership and Champions League, which is a credit to the remarkable character and resilience of their team.
Now, the only obstacle to an incredible double are Man United, who have led the Premiership for most of the season, and are chasing their second Champions League title. It would be a very sweet victory for Alex Ferguson, as he probably feels this is the only competition in which he hasn’t been as successful as he might have been. Below, I’ve analysed five key players from both teams, to see which side might have the edge in what will be a memorable conclusion to the season.
CECH vs.VAN DER SAR
Some people have suggested that Cech hasn’t looked the same player since he suffered his head injury against Reading a couple of years back, but I still feel he’s an absolutely top-class ’keeper. He’s also had a few injuries this season which have kept him out of a total of 22 games, but when he’s been in the team he has been as effective as ever. Under Mourinho, Chelsea’s defence was the bedrock of the team, and they remain a tough team to score against. Cech is a big part of the reason why. I still rate him as the best goalkeeper in the Premiership.
EDWIN VAN DER SAR
Peter Schmeichel was a key player in the United team that dominated the Premiership in the late ’90s, and Fergie struggled to replace him after he departed the club. He went through several goalkeepers before he settled on the Dutchman. Van Der Sar is a big, commanding keeper, which Fergie likes, and he marshals his back four very well. I don’t think he’s quite on the same level as Cech (or Schmeichel) when it comes to one-on-ones, but there is no doubt that he has offered the solution to a problem that was proving to be a big headache for Man Utd.
TERRY vs. FERDINAND
The England captain has been the rock at the centre of the Chelsea defence over the past few seasons, and has formed a very formidable defensive partnership with Ricardo Carvalho. He suffered three broken bones in his foot when Chelsea played Arsenal in December, and although he was initially expected to be out for three months, he made a quicker than expected recovery and returned in time to lead out Chelsea in the Carling Cup Final. I believe Terry’s swift recuperation was very important for Chelsea; if he’d been out for longer, it would have been seriously bad news. He remains arguably the best central defender in the Premiership.