The Premier League’s big two both felt the effects of their Champions League ties this week. While Manchester United’s trip to AaB Aalborg and Chelsea’s to CFR Cluj looked equally straightforward on paper, United comfortable picked up three points on Tuesday while Chelsea could only manage a draw last night.
It would still be a major surprise if both clubs did not qualify from their respective groups. But for Chelsea the task looks more difficult, and not just because they dropped points in what should have been their easiest away game.
The main talking points after both matches were the injuries. The ligament damage sustained to the knees of both Paul Scholes and Didier Drogba will hit both teams hard, but it is the repercussions of Drogba’s injury which will have the most impact.
Scholes’ influence on his United team-mates and his links to Fergie’s last great side should not be underestimated. However, he had probably just dipped out of that purple patch of form he showed last season when he played some of the best football of his career. He is still a class act, but Ferguson has young midfielders raring to go in Scholes’ absence.
The loss of Scholes has also been lessened by the news of another injury that did not involve ligament damage. Wayne Rooney’s ankle injury is not as serious as first expected and his link-up play and football brain will be important for a Scholes-less United.
At Stamford Bridge, Drogba’s loss is devastating not least because the club already has a lengthy injury list. Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien are already out of contention, and Ashley Cole, Alex and John Terry are also nursing injuries. Although Drogba is not a favourite among the Chelsea supporters, even his harshest critic would acknowledge that he is probably the one player the Blues could not afford to lose.
Without the Ivorian international leading the line Chelsea never have quite as good a shape, nor do they look as much of an attacking threat. As a big targetman, albeit one who can play too, Drogba offers Chelsea a dimension that no other player in their squad does.
So it is Chelsea who have come off worse from the two knee ligament injuries.