It's a quick turnaround for Manchester United -- in fact, their quickest of the season -- as they prepare to take on Chelsea tomorrow in a FA Cup quarter-final replay at Stamford Bridge. This will occur just 45 hours after the final whistle against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. This tie has come about because of the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford three weeks ago -- a game in which the Reds blew an early two-goal lead and were fortunate not to lose after a brilliant David de Gea save at the death on a close-range Juan Mata attempt. The winner of the replay will face Manchester City in a semi-final clash at Wembley.
Form Guide: Sir Alex Ferguson's side are in tremendous form domestically as they haven't lost to a foe from England nor Wales since mid-November. The most recent result was Saturday's 1-0 defeat of Sunderland. United currently sit 15-points clear of City in the Premier League title race with 8 fixtures remaining for both sides.
Team News: Prior to the Sunderland match, Ferguson claimed that he had a fully fit squad. However, during the match, Rafael was substituted off in the first-half due to an apparent groin injury. The seriousness of it is unknown. In addition, Nemanja Vidic and David de Gea appeared to have sustained minor knocks during the match. Each player, though, was able to finish the match.
Form Guide: What a chaotic season it's been for the reigning European champions. The Blues continued their erratic ways on Saturday with a 1-2 defeat by Southampton. Prior to that, they had been unbeaten in their past 5 matches across 3 competitions. Chelsea currently sit fourth in the Premier League, 22 points adrift of United.
Team News: Ahead of the Southampton match, the injury concerns for Chelsea were Gary Cahill and Ramires. The latter, though, came on as a substitute in the game. Cahill's status is uncertain. Mata is thought to have missed Saturday's match due to illness so his availability is uncertain. Oriol Romeu has a season-ending injury.
United: Saturday's game probably provided some strong hints as to which players might feature against Chelsea. The short turnaround makes it extremely difficult for outfield players to start twice within a 47 hour span. de Gea will be expected in goal but if Ferguson feels he needs a rest, then Anders Lindegaard is possible. Vidic is almost certain to be rested and Rio Ferdinand is almost certain to start in central-defense. His partner is likely to be Jonny Evans, although Chris Smalling or Phil Jones are possible. One of the latter two is likely to deputise at right-back for Rafael. Patrice Evra will be at left-back.
In midfield, Tom Cleverley is anticipated and if Ferguson deems him fit enough, Michael Carrick could be one of the few outfield players to start twice in 3 days. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are also in contention for a start in the center of the park. The latter is also possible out wide as is Nani and Danny Welbeck. Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, and Shinji Kagawa are probably going to be rested after featuring against Sunderland.
Up front, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) seem likely to start since neither featured on Saturday. In addition, the latter has an impressive scoring record against the Blues. Welbeck is also contention to start as a striker while Robin van Persie will probably be available as a substitute.
Chelsea: Similar to the situation with United, Rafa Benitez's selection choices on Saturday provides some hints for Monday. Peter Cech is expected in goal and ahead of him in central-defense, David Luiz and Cahill (if fit) are anticipated. If the latter can't go, then Branislav Ivanovic is likely to partner Luiz. The Serbian is also in contention at right-back, as is Cesar Azpilicueta. At left-back, Ashley Cole will start.
Frank Lampard is likely to rested after starting against Southampton and Ramires likely takes his spot in the double-pivot. The Brazilian will probably be partnered by John Obi Mikel, although Luiz could be a surprise choice.
In the attacking midfield band of Chelsea's 4-2-3-1, Mata (if not ill) is likely in the No.10 role. Eden Hazard is expected on the left while Oscar or Victor Moses will be on the right. Up front, Demba Ba probably gets the nod over Fernando Torres.
* Rooney needs to help out in the midfield battle: During the run-in of the 2010-11, Rooney was genuinely a world-class No.10. While his passing range was stellar as was his movement, his technical ability is not what made him such an effective player. It was his work-rate and defensive awareness that enabled him to screen for Carrick and Giggs -- the then first-choice central-midfield duo -- as this helped provide a nice balance in the center of the park (along with Park Ji-sung's own industry and ability to interchange with Giggs from a left-sided role in attack). Sometime in the past few years though, Rooney lost this defensive ability and at times, he's been a liability against certain sides. This is why he was dropped against Real Madrid earlier in the month and this is a big reason why United struggled to compete in central-midfield against Chelsea during the recent 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.
Rooney didn't feature against Sunderland so presumably, he'll start at Stamford Bridge -- probably forming a partnership with Chicharito. The Mexican international -- if he features -- will play on the shoulder of the opposition center-backs as he always does and because Chelsea tend to sit back a few yards deeper out of respect for his pace, this creates more vertical space underneath for Rooney. When these two attackers are partnered together, the Englishman essentially becomes an auxiliary midfielder.
In the 2-2 tie at Old Trafford a few weeks back, the away side grew into the game because of one main reason: they began to flood the center of the pitch with the dynamic movement of Oscar, Hazard, Mata, and Ramires while Mikel added some shape stability when he came on as a substitute by protecting the space in behind. The United midfield struggled to cope with this and they weren't helped out at all by Rooney failing to drop in and engage in the midfield battle. This is something he must absolutely do if he's not tasked with being an out-and-out striker on Monday. Perhaps then, Ferguson will deploy Welbeck in this withdrawn role -- he was superb defensively in this role against Real Madrid -- while Rooney could feature elsewhere.
This, perhaps, is the main macro-tactical key for this match. Our preview from three weeks ago covers most of the other key battles in recent United versus Chelsea clashes.
KO: 12:30pm BST, 7:30am EST | Stamford Bridge
Live TV: ITV1 (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.)
Referee: Phil Dowd
Odds: Chelsea 7/5, Draw 12/5, Manchester United 9/5