• Manchester United v Chelsea, FA Cup

Result - not the ref - the key

ESPN staff
March 8, 2013
Is the stage set for Wayne Rooney to come out firing against Chelsea? © PA Photos

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Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping a refereeing decision won't be responsible for seeing his side exit another competition.

When Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho said the whole world would stop and watch the blockbuster tie between United and Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday. Indeed, the world did stop, but more in shock than anything else.

Old Trafford and the majority of spectators (apart from Roy Keane) were stunned and surprised to see Cuneyt Cakir brandish a red card to United's Nani for a foul on Alvaro Arbeloa.

The Turkish referee has been backed by UEFA (and received death threats from angry United supporters), and is probably best advised to stay away from Ferguson for the time being. Ferguson was so distraught in fact he did not even turn up to his post-match press conference.

United were a goal up at the time after Sergio Ramos had put through his own net but, following the dismissal, Luka Modric and former Red Devil Cristiano Ronaldo turned the tie in Madrid's favour to seal a 2-1 victory on the night (3-2 on aggregate), and a spot in the last eight.

Licking their wounds, United have another tough game to face.

The pick of the quarter-finals in the FA Cup sees the 11-time winners up against current holders Chelsea.

So with all eyes (Ferguson's especially) set to be on the referee once again on Sunday, Howard Webb will be praying he doesn't put a foot wrong to incur the wrath of the United boss, or that of Chelsea's Rafael Benitez.

However, the last time Webb took control of an FA Cup clash at Old Trafford, he sparked controversy.

United defeated Liverpool 1-0 in what was the start of Kenny Dalglish's second stint in charge and after the game Ryan Babel tweeted a mocked-up picture of Webb posing in a United shirt. Babel was fined for his actions after posting: "And they call him one of the best referees? That's a joke."

Putting refereeing decisions to one side, United need to quickly regain their focus if they are to add another trophy to the Premier League title they are romping towards.

Chelsea make the trip north to Manchester looking to keep their hopes of retaining the FA Cup alive, and triumph for a fifth time in seven seasons.

When these teams met back in October, it was the start of Chelsea beginning to collapse and United gaining momentum as United won 3-2, with Roberto Di Matteo being sacked a month later. They did face one another a few days later in the Capital One Cup, with Chelsea exacting revenge to win 5-4 after extra-time.

What sort of role will Fernando Torres play at Old Trafford? © Getty Images

In reality, neither side wanted this match-up. But for whoever wins the battle, they will have dispatched a threat and potentially forge a path to the final at Wembley.

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United's loss to Madrid in the second leg was their first of 2013, but before that they last suffered a defeat against CFR Cluj in the Champions League last December. United had already qualified for the last-16, so the defeat was not a meaningful one. You have to go back to November 17 to find their last domestic defeat, a 1-0 loss to Norwich City at Carrow Road.

Despite Benitez continuing to get abuse from supporters, the Spaniard has actually turned the club's fortunes around. Before Thursday night's 1-0 loss to Steaua Bucharest, Chelsea had won five of their last eight games.

Team news

Ferguson will have the same squad against Madrid for Chelsea, with Phil Jones and Paul Scholes remaining doubts and Darren Fletcher being a long-term absentee. And there could be a role for Wayne Rooney - who was "tactically" left out of the starting line-up against Madrid.

Chelsea have no new injury worries and there could be a place in the team for John Terry, who returned to captain the side in their Europa League defeat.

Demba Ba will be back and available for Chelsea, having been cup tied for their Europa League loss in Bucharest.

Head-to-head battles

  • David De Gea v Demba Ba

    If United are sloppy at the back, then De Gea will have to bail his defence out, and counter the threat of Demba Ba

  • Patrice Evra v Eden Hazard

    Evra may not have Cristiano Ronaldo or Angel di Maria to face, but he will still have to be on full alert to stop the skills and trickery of Hazard

  • Tom Cleverley v Juan Mata

    Arguably Chelsea's player of the season, Mata is sure to have Cleverley hovering around him to stop him dictating the pace of the game

One to watch

Robin van Persie is one of the contenders to be Player of the Year, but the Dutchman has gone on a run of five games without a goal. Which is why he is the danger man.

There always has to be a time to break such a run and United's top scorer, in front of a raucous home crowd, will be confident of grabbing goals and can flick the switch at any time.

Key battle

A game can be won or lost in midfield, so it will be up to Michael Carrick to pull the strings in the middle of the park for United and for Frank Lampard to do the same for Chelsea.

Carrick is having one of his strongest seasons for United since he made the move from Tottenham in 2006 and if Van Persie is going to get any joy out of the visiting defence, the Dutchman will need Carrick to pick the killer passes to find him. It will probably be up to Carrick to pick off the runs from deep from Lampard.

Still with his future at the club undecided, Lampard is certainly concentrating on matters on the pitch.

Earlier in the week, officials at Chelsea denied a deal was in place for Lampard. So with lingering uncertainty over his future, the 34-year-old almost has a point to prove and with five goals in his last nine outings he has been hugely influential. His role will be to feed either Demba Ba or Fernando Torres up front. Carrick's will be to counter.

Prediction and bet

With United still sulking over their European exit, they will take their frustration out on Chelsea. Or Chelsea will kick United while they are still down.

We think the former, with Van Persie priced at 4/1 with bet365 to set United on their way with the opening goal en route to the semi-finals

Final score: 2-1

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