Gabriele Marcotti
Tuesday May 20th, 2008

SI.com's Gabriele Marcotti breaks down Wednesday's Champions League final matchup between Manchester United and Chelsea (ESPN2, 2:30 p.m. ET).

John Terry is the resident "Mr. Bump," an uncompromising gladiator who puts his body on the line every time he steps on the pitch. In the speedy and intelligent Ricardo Carvalho, he has the perfect complement. Michael Essien is out of position at right back, but he's so good, it just doesn't matter. And Petr Cech, despite an off-year, remains the kind of goalkeeper who can dominate games.

That said, they're up against the New Holy Trinity: Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tévez and Wayne Rooney. Few teams in recent history have had three guys who were so talented, so young. It's strength against strength.

Edge: Even.

Even at 35, Claude Makélélé is the consummate defensive stopper. His help comes from a rejuvenated Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard, who could be making his final appearance in a Chelsea jersey.

Paul Scholes has reinvented himself in a deeper position, turning in one of the best seasons of his career, while both Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves (or, should he play, Anderson) are solid defensively and rarely give the ball away.

Edge: Chelsea, slightly.

Didier Drogba combines an old-school battering ram with speed and athleticism. Joe Cole can be tricky out wide, but neither Solomon Kalou nor Florent Malouda (penciled in to start on the opposite flank) have played well lately.

Rio Ferdinand has matured into one of the best central defenders in the Premier League and, with Nemanja Vidic, forms one of the top partnerships in Europe. In goal, Edwin van der Sar isn't getting any younger, but his experience counts for something. Right back Wes Brown has quietly had a very solid year replacing Gary Neville, while Patrice Evra gives you plenty of punch going forward, less so defensively.

Edge: Man. United.

Nicolas Anelka and, especially, Andriy Shevchenko have failed to impress since moving to Stamford Bridge, but both will be called upon if things get messy for Chelsea.

United has a wealth of options -- Park Ji-Sung (who played a huge part in the Champions League run), Anderson, Nani, Ryan Giggs (or, if he starts, whoever he displaces) -- each of whom gives the side a different dimension.

Edge: Man. United.

The Israeli boss was derided and mocked, but he actually lost fewer games this season than José Mourinho lost in any of his three years at Stamford Bridge. The mere fact that Chelsea took the Premier League race right down to the last day of the season while making it Moscow is evidence that he's doing something right.

But Sir Alex is in a different category altogether. If United has successfully completed a Jekyll and Hyde act this year -- devastating attacking force in the Premier League, solid, tactically sound defensive stalwarts in the Champions League -- credit has to go to him, assistant Carlos Queiroz and the rest of his staff.

Edge: Man. United.

Chelsea got a huge psychological boost beating United (albeit, an under-strength United) earlier this month. More importantly, if the game turns into a cagey, defensive affair (as many predict) Chelsea is more of a threat on set-pieces and arguably has more individuals who can turn a game single-handedly.

Edge: Chelsea.

Chelsea

1. Test van der Sar from distance, particularly through Lampard and Ballack.

2. Don't let Ronaldo run at defenders.

3. Exploit the size advantage on free kicks and corner kicks.

Man. United

1. When not in possession, make sure the fullbacks get plenty of help.

2. Don't try to out-defend Chelsea -- make your advantage up front count.

3. Mix it up. If you just focus on keeping possession, you're playing into Chelsea's hands.

Manchester United 1, Chelsea 0

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