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Centre-backs take centre stage

Published: Saturday 5 November 2005, 2.37CET
England defensive partners Rio Ferdinand and John Terry will be vying for supremacy as Manchester United FC take on Chelsea FC at Old Trafford this afternoon.
by Andrew Haslam & John Spencer
from London & Seville

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Published: Saturday 5 November 2005, 2.37CET

Centre-backs take centre stage

England defensive partners Rio Ferdinand and John Terry will be vying for supremacy as Manchester United FC take on Chelsea FC at Old Trafford this afternoon.
As Manchester United FC and Chelsea FC meet at Old Trafford in the Premiership this afternoon, England team-mates John Terry and Rio Ferdinand will be particularly keen to see their respective sides prevail after both suffered UEFA Champions League defeats in midweek.

Significant loss
It seems faintly ridiculous to suggest that after Chelsea's 1-0 loss at Real Betis Balompié on Tuesday night - their first reverse in normal time this season - José Mourinho's men must get back on track at Old Trafford. However, their captain Terry, whose ceaseless commitment, drive and determination has provided the bedrock for much of his team's recent success, believes that an instant reaction is exactly what is required.

'We didn't fight'
"It's a massive game at the weekend," the centre-back said. "We didn't fight for the shirt against Betis and were a bit sluggish right the way through the team. They caused us problems in the first 15 or 20 minutes. We've been suffering on corners and crosses. Betis caused us a few problems at Stamford Bridge and we didn't deal with that again. It was our first defeat in 90 minutes this season and was a bad way to lose because we didn't perform well."

Cracks in the armour
Chelsea bowed out of the English League Cup after losing on penalties against Charlton Athletic FC and recent performances against Everton FC and Blackburn Rovers FC have hinted at a hitherto unsuspected vulnerability. However, even taking the Betis loss into account - described by Mourinho as "clearly our worst game since I arrived" - the Portuguese manager's task looks straightforward compared to that facing Sir Alex Ferguson. Wednesday's 1-0 defeat at LOSC Lille Métropole left United third in UEFA Champions League Group D and came just four days after a 4-1 Premiership humbling at Middlesbrough FC.

Ferdinand concern
Central to his dilemma is Ferdinand, who has looked out of sorts this season and attracted recent criticism from press and fans alike. Two of the goals at Middlesbrough resulted from Ferdinand's hesitancy, and at the Stade de France on Wednesday, Matt Moussilou's clever run pulled the centre-half out of position, allowing Milenko Ačimovič to score Lille's winner. Sir Alex has not commented at length on Ferdinand's recent performances, although perhaps it was telling that, in the continued absence of captain Roy Keane with a broken metatarsal - as well as Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville - the armband has not passed to Ferdinand.

Incentive to impress
In many ways, the fortunes of Terry and Ferdinand over the past 12 months have mirrored those of their respective clubs. Whereas the Chelsea captain has grown in stature and is now an indispensable figure for club and country, Ferdinand's lustre has steadily faded since his return from an eight-month suspension imposed after he missed a drugs test - resulting in the defender sitting out UEFA EURO 2004™, in which Terry performed creditably in his place.

Perfect moment
Ferdinand has undoubtedly been singled out to an extent; what was once seen as composure and assurance is currently viewed as over-confidence and lack of concentration. Ferdinand, however, is a top-class footballer who will doubtless bounce back. Having been linked with Chelsea prior to signing a lucrative new United contract in the summer, he would dearly love to begin to answer his critics on Sunday.

Last updated: 06/11/05 20.32CET

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