It is the game that both could do without, but when everybody wakes up from their Easter Sunday hangover, there won’t be many people complaining about the prospect of watching Chelsea and Manchester United do battle at Stamford Bridge.
Easter Monday at 12.30pm was the only time this FA Cup quarter-final replay could be played thanks to Chelsea’s ridiculous schedule – the Blues have just started a run of seven games in 19 days – and it means the two sides are kicking off a match for the second time in 48 hours.
It is far from ideal, although with Sir Alex Ferguson safe in the knowledge the Premier League title is won, it is Rafa Benitez who has more reason to bemoan this fixture: with the Europa League to compete in and, more vitally, a top-four finish to guarantee, the former Liverpool boss really doesn’t need this game.
But a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, when United threw away their early dominance and a 2-0 lead, has left us in this position and in a snapshot of each team’s season, they are coming into this tie on the back of contrasting results.
As usual, United won on Saturday, this time at Sunderland, whereas Chelsea were losing down at Southampton, a result which has brought them back into Arsenal’s sights in the race for the Champions League.
Both managers made changes to their teams for those games and there are sure to be changes again given the proximity of this tie, and it does make it quite a hard one to call.
United, despite being the far superior team, are 17/10 compared to Chelsea’s 6/4 to win the match, while the draw that would take the match into extra time is 23/10.
I reckon that the three way result is a tough one to call. The three fixtures between the two sides this season – the original tie, the league match and the Capital One Cup tie at Stamford Bridge – have seen a Chelsea win, a United win and a draw, and even if Ferguson has the better team, Chelsea are still capable of raising themselves, even if they have struggled for consistency all year.
The early kick-off is an extra complication, but I think that it opens itself to the best bet – the 21/20 that there are more goals in the second half.
Creatures of habit, footballers just aren’t ready to play a match at 12.30pm – many Premier League stars have gone on record saying the 12.45pm Saturday kick-offs are more difficult to prepare for – and often in those games the players take a while to get going, with games opening up after the interval.
And I see this game being a prime example of that. Robin van Persie has told people not to expect a ‘great game of football’ because of the scheduling, and there are enough stats to back the bet up, too: United have only conceded one first-half goal in their last ten matches, while 18 of Chelsea’s last 23 goals have been scored in the second half.
You aren’t going to see either side go gung-ho at the start – certainly not a Benitez team – and I think this is a game that will take a while to warm up.
When it does, there are likely to be goals – there have been 28 in the last five meetings – but I think they will come after half-time. As such, the 21/20 looks like a fine bet.