LONDON, England, March 31 – Manchester United and Chelsea face a challenging 48-hour turnaround ahead of their FA Cup quarter-final replay at Stamford Bridge on Monday.
Both sides were in Premier League action on Saturday, giving them little time to prepare for an encounter that carries with it the tantalising prize of a semi-final date with Manchester City at Wembley Stadium.
United manager Alex Ferguson made several changes for his side’s 1-0 win at Sunderland, with Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs among the players omitted from the squad altogether.
Despite United’s reputation for endurance in the major competitions, centre-back Jonny Evans admits it is something of a novelty to play two games in such quick succession.
“I have never really been in this situation before, so it will be new to probably most of us,” said the Northern Ireland international.
“It’s just all about tonight (Saturday). We will probably go back and get a good recovery session in and make sure we have done everything we can physically to make sure we are right for the game on Monday.”
Ferguson is desperate to see United end their nine-year wait for FA Cup glory, having seen his side beaten 1-0 by Chelsea in 2007 in their last appearance in the final.
The Scot will also be keenly aware that, with four FA Cup triumphs in the last six seasons, Chelsea are intruding upon United’s territory as the most successful side in the history of the game’s oldest cup competition.
However, his decision to shuffle his pack against Sunderland owed as much to his team’s dominant position in the Premier League table as it did to his desire to add a sixth FA Cup winner’s medal to his collection.
United’s win at the Stadium of Light enabled them to preserve their 15-point lead at the top of the standings and a 20th English title now appears a formality.
Life is not quite so rosy for Ferguson’s opposite number, Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez.
Last season’s European champions remain in contention for honours in both the FA Cup and the Europa League, but Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Southampton jeopardised their chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
Benitez defended his decision to leave Eden Hazard, Ashley Cole and David Luiz on the bench at St Mary’s.
“We had to manage the squad,” he said. “We don’t have too many options in some positions, so we had to use the players we had.
“It would have been different if we’d done better in the first half, because in the second we had the chances to win.”
Benitez also rejected suggestions he had purposefully rested Gary Cahill and Juan Mata.
“Cahill and Mata couldn’t play. I wasn’t ‘resting’ them,” he said.
“If you don’t have one or two players, you have to manage the squad. Mata could be back on Monday, but Cahill, I don’t think so.”
Despite United’s record-breaking dominance in the league, which has now seen them amass 54 points from a possible 50, Benitez will take heart from his side’s performance in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford on March 10.
Then, United quickly assembled a 2-0 lead, only to wilt in the face of Chelsea’s stirring comeback in the second half.
Since that game, United have produced two laboured 1-0 victories, over Reading and Sunderland, but Ferguson confirmed that he will look to recall his big guns for the trip to west London.
“There will be changes at Chelsea,” he said. “We will have to wait and see how Wayne is. He was a bit tired after getting back from the England match (in Montenegro).
“We will have Ryan Giggs and Javier Hernandez available and there were a couple of others who I did not take to Sunderland.”