x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

FA Cup: Manchester United will so badly want to beat Chelsea

Having been knocked out of Europe, English football club target winning the league and FA Cup double, writes Andrew Cole.

Andrew Cole, right, considers the FA Cup match in 1998, which he played in alongside Ryan Giggs, left, and David Beckham as one of the most memorable between Manchester United and Chelsea.
Andrew Cole, right, considers the FA Cup match in 1998, which he played in alongside Ryan Giggs, left, and David Beckham as one of the most memorable between Manchester United and Chelsea.

Chelsea against Manchester United has become the most exciting game in English football.

They meet again in an FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday, when I expect another great tie, much like all the recent matches between the two.

The results from this season are Chelsea 2 United 3, in the league; Chelsea 5 United 4, in the League Cup; and United 2 Chelsea 2 in the FA Cup.

They are still to play twice this season, but classic cup ties between the two are not limited to now.

In 1998, I played in one of the greatest football matches I was fortunate to be a part of.

For 75 minutes, United played some of the finest football that we have ever played, humiliating the cup holders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

We were champions, but Chelsea had drawn 2-2 at Old Trafford a few months earlier and fancied their chances at home.

It is rare that almost every player in any team is at their best at the same time, but Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and myself all had our finest games of the season. Becks scored twice and I got one to give us a 3-0 lead at half time. Becks enjoyed the moment by cupping his hands around his ears, as if to say, "Where's your abuse now?"

Our lead stunned everyone, including Sir Alex Ferguson, who told us to do more of the same. People were surprised because Chelsea had very good team, under Ruud Gullit, but games between them and us were always spiky.

I later had a few run-ins with Marcel Desailly, the French centre-back who liked a whinge if I had the audacity to win the ball from him.

There were little battles all over the pitch.

Nicky Butt was clashing with Mark Hughes and Dennis Wise in the middle. Hughes had played for United and alongside me, but he turned into a raging bull when he crossed the white line, whoever he played for. Wise was even worse and Butty despised him. An aggressive midfielder, Wise would pinch you and wind you up. The tackles flew, many of them late.

There was no love lost.

If you let Chelsea play good football they would, but if you got in and among them they would complain. They would probably say the same about us.

Gus Poyet, the Uruguayan midfielder, was a player who could leave it late for tackles; Roberto Di Matteo, too, while Graeme Le Saux and Beckham always niggled against each other. Anyone who thought either were whipping boys were mistaken; Becks always stood up for himself - he still does - and does not do intimidation.

We were winning the battles, cruising. I made it 4-0 after 65 minutes, Teddy Sheringham 5-0 with 15 to play. Five-nil at Chelsea!

Then we stopped, or Chelsea started, depending which way you look at it. Maybe we became complacent because we were cruising, something you cannot afford to do at the top level. Maybe we always did things the hard way at United.

Whatever, Chelsea scored three times in 10 minutes through Le Saux and twice from Gianluca Vialli and the game ended 5-3. After that season, United won just once in the league at Stamford Bridge in the next 15 years.

There were parallels with the recent FA Cup game at Old Trafford. United were cruising and leading 2-0 at half time, but Rafa Benitez made intelligent substitutes and Chelsea improved dramatically in the second half.

The changes of John Obi Mikel for Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard for Victor Moses were booed by Chelsea fans, but Benitez got it right.

They limited United's space in the middle, scored twice through Hazard and Ramires, and only a late save by David de Gea kept United in the cup.

Both teams get a second chance. I do not think we will see the high number of goals as in recent clashes as United have tightened their defence up, competition is keener and they are not carrying the injuries of earlier in the season - though I could have said the same before Chelsea scored two at Old Trafford.

Having been knocked out of Europe, United want to win the league and FA Cup double. They have won the won the FA Cup a record 11 times, but not since 2004. Chelsea have won it four times in the past six years.

The winners play Manchester City in the semi-final at Wembley. If that is United, they have a chance to avenge the 2011 semi-final, which was settled by a Yaya Toure goal.

United will not be using words like "revenge", but winning would also mean that City finish the season without a trophy.

After beating Chelsea 5-3, we ended up getting knocked out of the cup that year by a Barnsley side we had beaten 7-0 earlier in the season.

That is cup football; anything can happen.

That is why we love the FA Cup, and why I cannot wait to see Monday's replay.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of the European football correspondent Andy Mitten.


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