Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United (Man Utd win 6-5 on penalties)
Champions League Final 21st May 2008, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
The European Champions League final of 2008 was contested between Manchester United and Chelsea at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
United and Chelsea were the top two clubs in English football. Between them they had won the last four English Premier League (EPL) titles.
Many English football supporters billed the game as a match between history and money. It was a reference to the rich European heritage enjoyed by United and the hundreds of millions of pounds spent by Roman Abramovich in an attempt to put Chelsea on level terms. It was the first time since the competition was restructured to its current format that two English teams had both reached the final.
The growing reputation of the EPL
The English Premier League had been growing in stature throughout the decade and was by now considered to be one of the best football leagues on the planet. Fans of the Italian or German leagues might have argued that the EPL was a little naive defensively.
However the intensity and blood, guts and thunder style of football played by English teams had led many fans and players to believe it was the most exciting league in the world, rivalled only by Spain’s La Liga. The fact that this was the fourth year in a row that an English team had reached the Champions League final and the first time that two had contested it certainly showed that the EPL was bubbling with talent.
Five years earlier, two Italian teams had contested the final and the 2008 final showed that English football had come of age.
English stars mixed with world’s top talent
If there had been one criticism of the EPL it was that most of the teams had more foreign stars than native English or even British players. The same was not true of the other major leagues.
Indeed, both teams were packed with superstar players from all over the world but both also had top English stars in key positions.
United’s formidable title winning team
United had a frightening array of attacking flair and vision with Wayne Rooney, Christiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Paul Scholes all in the starting line up.
Their solid defence had helped guide them to their second EPL title in a row. It contained Edwin van der Sar in goal and a back four of Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra. The defence was protected by Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick.
Traumatic year for the Blues
Chelsea had finished second in the EPL table for the second year in a row. It was a record that had not been good enough for owner Abramovich whose tolerance levels allowed little margin for error.
The club’s iconic manger, Jose Mourinho, had left earlier in the season after by mutual consent after his relationship with the Russian had broken down.
Many thought Avram Grant had been the wrong man to take over the role but it had to be said that guiding his team to the final had been a remarkable achievement. Nevertheless it was still widely believed that if Grant did not win this match he too would be out of a job.
He needed his troops to be on top form that night and he sent out a side in a 4-5-1 formation to limit chances for United’s red hot attack.
Compact and flexible Chelsea team
Their defence consisted of Petr Cech in goal and Michael Essien, Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry and Ashley Cole making up the back four.
Michael Ballack, Claude Makelele, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Florent Malouda formed a five man midfield that was able to stifle the space in the middle of the park when United had the ball, and support the lone striker when they had possession.