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30 stats for Messi's 30th birthday

By ESPN Staff

Chasing the treble dream

It's the time of year when fans dare to dream. If you are in the privileged position where your team is still in all three major cup competitions then you must be either a Manchester United fan, or a Chelsea supporter.

Chances are that the treble dream will remain ellusive, but which team is best placed to go all the way and repeat United's incredible feat of 1999?

CHELSEA - Premiership chances
Currently nine points behind the leaders with a game in hand, Chelsea are well placed to pick up points with Man City, Sheffield United and Watford in their immediate future.

Tottenham, Arsenal and Bolton will all provide stiff competition for Mourinho's men, especially if they are forced to continue playing with Michael Essien in defence. They have the league's best striker in Didier Drogba, and probably the biggest underachiever in Andrei Shevchenko, and have the strength in depth to cope with anything except an injury to Ricardo Carvalho.

Relying on Manchester United to drop points doesn't put them in the best position though, and the game with the Red Devils on April 15 (subject to change if both teams make it to the FA Cup semi-finals) will be the biggest game of the season - if it's not all over by then.

With Mourinho in charge, John Terry and Petr Cech back in the side, you can't rule Chelsea out, but the odds are certainly stacked against the champions keeping hold of their title.

FA Cup
At half-time against Tottenham, 3-1 down, not many would have predicted Chelsea to score another goal, let alone stay in the competition. But having pulled off the great escape, you would be foolish to write them off in this year's competition.

First they have to contend with a tough replay against Tottenham, and then face a fired up Blackburn if they progress. So far the Blues haven't come up against much competition in the Cup and will not relish playing away at White Hart Lane, especially if Dimitar Berbatov continues his great form of late, but they are still favourites to reach the final.

That final at Wembley, potentially against Manchester United, will spur on Mourinho and company, but having not had the best of luck with injuries this season, they could find themselves short staffed if they manage to stay in all three competitions.

VERDICT: Losing out, if not against Spurs, then to United in the final.

Champions League
Some think that Europe's elite competition is the best chance for Chelsea to come away with another trophy this year. Valencia are no easy task though and will be there or thereabouts when Spain's La Liga comes to a close, along with Barcelona and Sevilla.

Already linked with a £50million bid for their top striker, David Villa, Chelsea's style of football makes them favourites against the Spanish, who have looked shaky this season - particularly away from home. After the battle against Inter Milan, Valencia could find themselves without a few key players, and have already lost Ruben Baraja for the season to a knee injury.

Should Chelsea advance, they'll most likely find themselves up against Liverpool in the semi-finals. Although Mourinho's record against Rafa Benitez has not been great in the cup competitions, Benitez's team blows hot and cold in Europe and the match-up will be intriguing.

Tactically, both managers have won battles against each other in the past. Liverpool's desire to win their sixth European Cup may outweigh Chelsea's, but on paper you would have to back Mourinho's squad to come out on top.

Another mouth-watering final against Manchester United is on the cards should both teams progress, although Mourinho would surely prefer to be facing either Bayern Munich or AC Milan. The Portuguese manager has been there before, winning with FC Porto in 2004, and if he is to placate his billionaire backer, he'll have to do so again.

VERDICT: Will get the better of Valencia, but probably not Liverpool.

TREBLE CHANCES: They won't win the League, so the treble is off. Jose's best chance to keep Abramovich happy is to grab one of the other trophies. Nothing less will do.

MANCHESTER UNITED - Premiership chances.
It's in their own hands. United have to drop points, and Chelsea have to capitalise if they are to throw away the title. It's happened before, but the smart money is on United this year.

They do have the tougher run in, with the likes of Blackburn, Bolton, Portsmouth and Everton to come; but crucially (and it may come down to this) they have Man City and West Ham in their final two matches.

Points on the board beats games in hand and United are in an incredible position, especially with Chelsea still to play. Cristiano Ronaldo is the Premiership's most in-form player at the moment, while Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have kept the defence together. United have great strength in depth, although an injury to Wayne Rooney would dismantle their season, as they weren't able to persuade Henrik Larsson to stay and have little cover up front.

Keep piling on the points and the title is a formality. Even the potential decider against Chelsea could be rendered meaningless if the Blues drop points. Ronaldo may beat Drogba to 'Player of the Year' as well, just to rub it in.

VERDICT: It's theirs to throw away, which they won't do - finishing 1st.

FA Cup
The best placed team in the competition, having been held to a draw at Middlesbrough, they now have home advantage and a potential tie against a side almost certain of relegation, Watford, to look forward to.

Sir Alex Ferguson has an excellent record in the competition, having won it five times in his time at the club. Criticised in the past for showing the competition a lack of respect, United will certainly be favourites if they overcome Middlesbrough - a side that have a good recent record at Old Trafford.

A potential final against Chelsea makes the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley an exciting prospect, and this is surely Ferguson's best chance of a trophy.

VERDICT: Going all the way to do 'the Double' - beating Chelsea in the final.

Champions League
Again, there is an argument that United are the best placed team in the competition with AS Roma to overcome in the quarter-finals.

A favourable draw against Lille in the previous round has given United the confidence they need to succeed, and Roma should not provide too much of an obstacle, despite a morale boosting win over Lyon.

Veteran European campaigners in the form of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs still form the backbone of the squad, while Ronaldo and Rooney provide the youthful exhuberance. They will meet one of Europe's top clubs in the semi-finals, and having lost home and away against Milan in 2004/05, may have a tough task to get to the final in Athens.

Should they get that far though, a final against Liverpool or Chelsea would be great for the Premiership and United would have the added impetus of a treble to chase. The Scousers may have something to say about that, but as with the other competitions, United are well placed to succeed.

Although there is a long way to go yet, it could all hinge on the final few games of the season, and if both teams play to the best of their abilities, that could mean Man Utd against Chelsea in all three competitions. Winner takes all.

VERDICT: Look good, but fixture congestion will see them ousted in the semis.

TREBLE CHANCES: The Premiership is there to be taken, as is the FA Cup. The Champions League will be the biggest test, but a repeat of 1999 is on the cards.

  • Any comments? Email Jon Carter