Saturday 04 May 2013
Chelsea will be looking to cement their place in the top four of the Barclays Premier League when they travel to the home of champions Manchester United on Sunday. Premierleague.com spoke to former Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers and Southampton defender Graeme Le Saux about the clash at Old Trafford.
Premierleague.com: This is a huge match for Chelsea, isn't it?
GLS: That’s right. They always have great battles with United and they tend to be excellent contests and Chelsea will be hoping that they can catch United cold and a bit distracted from their recent celebrations. There's going to be a party atmosphere at Old Trafford and sometimes that can unsettle players, they can lose their focus a little bit. However, as we know with Man United, even if they go a goal down they suddenly spring to life.
pl.com: Manchester United have won the League, the points record total is out of reach, how difficult is it to retain focus for the rest of the season?
GLS: If anyone can keep players focused it's Sir Alex Ferguson. He is a master of that. You see it time and time again, year in, year out. Against Arsenal they were distracted in the first half but the last 10 minutes of the first half they demanded a response between themselves and they started to get back into it.
Ferguson never lets up, you can't afford to. You see him going crazy about something that happens on the pitch which seems to most people very insignificant but it's about setting a standard. At United there is a huge competition for places, they are desperate to play for the team so psychologically they are always in a good place and Ferguson would have gone through that first half against Arsenal on tape with them during the week and would have told them if you play like that again you will not be in the team. That in itself will motivate his players.
pl.com: Where is the match going to be won or lost?
GLS: Using the Arsenal game as a template, it was almost won by Arsenal in midfield. They overloaded midfield and really pressed them very high up. They played at a ferocious pace in that first half and got their just rewards. For Chelsea, with the creativity they have in midfield, if they can work United high up the pitch, there will be space for players like Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar. They will have time to settle on the ball and create some chances. For Chelsea it's about how they move from the halfway line into the final third with the ball.
pl.com: How important will it be for Chelsea to start well?
GLS: Chelsea will take the same approach as Arsenal did. They have to start the game really quickly and get about United. The one thing United will do is give you chances because at home they play quite open football and they get forward in numbers, which means if you can absorb that pressure, and retain good possession when you are under pressure, you can counter-attack them as well. Chelsea have got the ability to do that because they have got very technical players.
pl.com: Chelsea have a tough run in so how important would the three points at Old Trafford be for the top-four chances?
GLS: If they can beat United, the game against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday takes on a different significance. Spurs would have to win that to further their ambitions of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. You would say that Arsenal have probably got the easier run-in but what Aston Villa did against Sunderland shows that you can’t afford to take anything for granted because you will get caught out. That's the wonderful thing about the Barclays Premier League, that it throws up so many surprises.
pl.com: How daunting is it to play old Trafford?
GLS: I always loved it. I never felt daunted playing at old Trafford and I had some of my best games there. It's a fantastic stage and a wonderful pitch. Everything on the pitch is so intense and they always play at such a high level, that you have to be absolutely focused on your game and absorbed in what is going on. I was fortunate enough to play in some real classics at Old Trafford and I came away from there relatively successful.
pl.com: How high do you rate Manchester United's achievements this season?
GLS: They have proven that consistency is the key to winning the Barclays Premier League. They have been able to maintain consistency in what has been by everyone else's standards, a relatively inconsistent season. They have also shown a lot of character, they have come back from behind and they score a lot of late goals.
It's not just about Robin van Persie, who has been sensational. They are the example of a squad. Whoever takes to the pitch, they know exactly what their job is and they perform at that level of consistency.
Graeme Le Saux was speaking ahead of the end-of-season awards lunch to recognise all the winners of the monthly Barclays Community Sports Award.