After 90 minutes of football between Manchester United against Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final second leg, we’re left with so many talking points.
First, I thought Chelsea played much better than they have done recently, especially in the first half. But Manchester United took their chances while Chelsea wasted many of theirs. Particularly guilty was Frank Lampard who looked a shadow of himself. His accuracy in front of goal left a lot to be desired.
Second, while so much of the attention was placed on Carlo Ancelotti’s decision to start Fernando Torres instead of Didier Drogba, I thought Torres had a bright first half with the chances that came his way. Drogba is a completely different player and adds a different dimension to Chelsea, but I don’t feel that Torres should be targeted as a reason Chelsea lost this game. In fact, Torres — while still not at the top of his game — has been dangerous in the first leg against Manchester United and in the Premier League match against Wigan at the weekend. In both of those games, it took world-class saves by Edwin van der Sar and Ali Al Habsi. On a different day, those two shots by Torres would both been goals.
Third, Nicolas Anelka’s performance during the first half was pitiful. He wasted a few chances in front of goal. And even in the second half he was hopeless. When Van der Sar came running out of his goal to try to clear the ball, Anelka was indecisive and weak in the tackle which allowed the Dutch goalkeeper to clear the ball away. If that had been Drogba or Torres, I would have felt far more confident that Chelsea would have created a goalscoring chance out of the opportunity.
Fourth, while Chelsea’s season is essentially over, Manchester United’s is just beginning. While the Red Devils put forth a brilliant team display Tuesday night, the man of the match for me was Wayne Rooney. This is a player who has morphed from a clinical goalscorer into a creative number 10 playmaker. Tuesday night he embodied the precision, creativity and calculated moves that would make Juan Roman Riquelme proud. This was one of the best performances I can remember from Rooney in several years.
Fifth, while the media in England will try to belabor Chelsea’s performance, I believe it was more a case tonight of Chelsea losing to the better team. Yes, Chelsea didn’t have their best match of the season by any means, but their first half performance was worthy of a goal. And while their second half performance was less impressive, Drogba still managed to get a goal. And Van der Sar had to come to Manchester United’s rescue once again near the end of the match. Take Park Ji-Sung’s goal away, and you have a very close game indeed. But with Park Ji-Sung’s goal, United had the breathing room they need to coast to victory near the end of the match.
Sixth, I can’t underestimate Manchester United’s impressive team performance in the match. The transformation of Nani from a misfit in previous seasons to an integral part of United’s attack has been a joy to watch. Ryan Giggs continues to amaze with deft passes that often create goals as they did Tuesday night for both of Manchester United’s goals. Javier Hernandez was unstoppable. And Park Ji-Sung, when he gets opportunities like that in massive matches, always seems to score.
Seventh and finally, I thought the match was an entertaining affair that was an open attacking game rather than the cagey one I feared. Both teams played well and should be proud of their performances. For Chelsea fans, the result is a bitter pill to swallow but it was a case of being beaten on the night by the better team. Somehow I figure that using that excuse will not be enough to save Ancelotti’s job as yet another Chelsea dream of winning the Champions League has turned into a nightmare.
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