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Man Utd, Chelsea aim for all-English final
April 29, 2008 11:04 IST
A first all-English Champions League final is tantalisingly close as Manchester United [Images], Chelsea and Liverpool prepare for this week's decisive semi-final second-leg games.
Only Barcelona, who face Manchester United on Tuesday after a goalless first leg in Spain, have a chance of representing elsewhere in Europe at next month's final.
Odds and history point to a Chelsea v Manchester United showdown in Moscow [Images] on May 21, 10 days after the sides will have settled the one-two finishing order in the tightest Premier League contest for years.
Chelsea host Liverpool on Wednesday in pole position after John Arne Riise's injury-time own goal gave them a 1-1 Anfield draw in the first leg.
To reach their third final in four seasons Liverpool will, at the least, have to score at Stamford Bridge for the first time in nine attempts.
United are no doubt still rueing Cristiano Ronaldo's [Images] early penalty miss in the Nou Camp but the goalless draw nevertheless gives them the edge over Barcelona.
Since the start of the Champions League in 1992/93 there have been 20 goalless first legs in knockout ties and 14 of them have been won by the team playing at home in the second leg.
Everything changed for Liverpool after Riise's blunder and now they will not be able to sit back and defend to secure a third Champions League semi-final success against their London [Images] rivals.
Not since Bruno Cheyrou earned them a 1-0 victory in January 2004 have Liverpool found the net at Stamford Bridge.
However, in the irrepressible Spaniard Fernando Torres, they have a cutting edge that has been sorely missing in recent years.
The Spaniard has scored 30 goals, including the opener in a 1-1 Anfield league draw between the two in August, and his hot form means the five-times European champions travel with justified confidence.
"The difference is we have never gone to Stamford Bridge with a player like Torres before," said captain Steven Gerrard.
"You will always have a chance with a player like Fernando. He has been superb for us all season."
Torres and Gerrard were among a host of players rested from Saturday's 2-2 draw at Birmingham City but Chelsea could not afford such a luxury for their table-topping clash with Manchester United.
They won 2-1 to draw level with their rivals but it was a tough, draining game and could be a factor on Wednesday, the teams' 20th meeting in four years, particularly if the match is a repeat of last season and goes to extra time and even penalties.
It is a similar situation at Old Trafford where Barcelona will arrive relatively fresh after resting most of their first team for Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Deportivo Coruna.
United did manage to protect a handful of first-teamers, though Ronaldo was pressed into action from the bench, but most of their other top players were involved and Wayne Rooney [Images], scorer of their goal, picked up a hip injury that leaves a doubt over his participation.
With the Primera Liga title long out of reach, Barca's stand-ins delivered a half-hearted display as they failed to score for the third successive game but the main men will be back with a vengeance.
"I can understand that the people might have doubts about us given the way we have played in recent league matches but the Champions League is different," said defender Silvinho.
"I think we've got a good chance of making the final."
UEFA Champions League 2007-08: The Complete Coverage