Chelsea set to feel United backlash in FA Cup

STEVE DOUGLAS AP Sports Writer Published:

LONDON (AP) -- A season that has promised so much for Manchester United could fizzle out into something of a disappointment if the team fails to recover from a heartbreaking Champions League exit in time for Sunday's FA Cup quarterfinal against Chelsea.

United's pain is still raw following its elimination by Real Madrid, which came about in controversial circumstances following the harsh sending-off of Portugal winger Nani.

Having started the week dreaming of the treble, United could yet end it with just one trophy to play for, although assistant coach Mike Phelan has promised a backlash from his players.

"It won't be a problem lifting them," said Phelan, the only member of United's coaching or playing staff to speak out since the Madrid loss.

"The players will rally round, the staff will rally round and we'll be Manchester United right the way through until the end of May."

Winning the Premier League-FA Cup double would still be a major feat, something United manager Alex Ferguson has achieved three times already -- in 1994, '96 and '99.

The league already appears wrapped up, with United 12 points clear with 10 games left. The FA Cup is more of a lottery, with Manchester City and Everton still involved at the last-eight stage and among the teams seeking a trip to Wembley for the semifinals.

Everton hosts Wigan and City is also at home on Saturday to second-tier Wigan. The other quarterfinal is a matchup between second-tier teams Millwall and Blackburn, which beat Arsenal in the last 16.

Because of the FA Cup, there is a truncated schedule in the Premier League this weekend, the highlight being Liverpool's home match against Tottenham.

A victory for Spurs would virtually end seventh-place Liverpool's outside hopes of qualifying for the Champions League, while lifting them five points clear of Chelsea in third. Fifth-place Arsenal is inactive this weekend.

It is another important weekend at the bottom as Reading hosts Aston Villa in a match between two teams in the relegation zone. Last-place Queens Park Rangers, which is three points behind Reading, is at home to Sunderland.

Saturday's other matches in the league are Norwich vs. Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion vs. Swansea. Stoke visits Newcastle in Sunday's second game.

Matches between United and Chelsea are rarely without incident and excitement.

They have already met in the League Cup this season, with Chelsea winning 5-4 at Stamford Bridge on Oct. 31. That match came four days after United's 3-2 victory at the same ground, in a game marred by accusations of racist abuse made by Chelsea midfielder Ramires against referee Mark Clattenburg.

This latest meeting between two of England's biggest sides shouldn't disappoint either, with Ferguson coming up against Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez for the first time since Benitez's return to English football in November.

The coaches have never been on the best of terms, with Benitez famously producing a list of "facts" from his pocket at a news conference, backing up his claim that Ferguson wasn't punished enough for verbally abusing match officials. In December, Ferguson reignited the fractious relationship by saying Benitez was "very lucky" to get the Chelsea job and the chance to win the Club World Cup for a second time.

That trophy was one of three opportunities for silverware passed up by Chelsea in Benitez's tenure -- the team has also been eliminated from the Champions league and the League -- while it is 17 points behind in the league.

The Europa League and the FA Cup are the two remaining hopes for Benitez, whose position is now more secure than it looked last week after his tirade against the club's fans and board.

"The players are behind him," Chelsea striker Demba Ba said this week. "It doesn't matter who you put in (the team), the players should be behind him because he is there and has our full support."