So this is what the English Premier League is all about: fantastic goals, shocking tackles, even more shocking misses, incredible speed, electric atmosphere and pure headline drama. Even as a supporter of the losing team, this was the most excitement I’ve had watching a Manchester United-Chelsea match since Moscow 2008 (well, at least some of it). It was really a stunning reminder of how symphonic football can be at times. The match was like a choreographed dance of blue and red bodies prodding and probing with a speed and skill that is unmatched by any in the world. Anyways, let’s end this love letter and move on to the match.
United’s lineup came as no surprise. Sir Alex sticking with the young boys who have produced so splendidly in recent weeks. I had expected one of Vidic or Ferdinand to make a trademark recovery, but that wasn’t the case. Probably a good thing, it must be said, because Smalling and Jones had great impacts, particularly going forward. The front four of Young, Nani, Rooney and Hernandez was both daring and frightening.
With the Chelsea lineup, I was surprised to see Mikel and Anelka left out. I thought Anelka would start on the right instead of Sturridge and Mikel would assume his position in the holding role. I’m fairly certain he would have featured there if Lampard wasn’t too big to drop. Chelsea could have faired better if they started Mikel and moved Meireles on the left instead of Lampard, who would go on to make no meaningful impact on the game and was rightfully subbed at halftime.
The match started at a frantic pace and continued that way for the next 85 minutes. The crowd noise was propelling the players forward. The ritualistic sounds of both Manchester United and Chelsea supporters, for almost the entire match, coated the stadium with a real sense of energy. Chelsea had an early chance to take the lead when Ashley Cole fired a cross across the box, only for Ramires to kick the ball into De Gea’s outstretched leg.
It wasn’t long before United took the lead through a Chris Smalling header off a set-piece. He was half-a-yard offside, but you have to question Lampard for not even attempting to track the run. Still, the linesman shouldn’t be making offside mistakes on a set-piece when the game is not in play – those are the easiest.
When the second goal came, there was again another question of offside. I don’t want to take anything away from United, however, because their possession play was superb in the build up. The speed at which United can play the ball down the wings and then switch the field to the other wing makes them a threat at any moment. Some of the play from Young and Nani was dazzling, and the latter gave Ashley Cole as hard of a time as Cristiano Ronaldo used to. Nani was the total package against Chelsea and he emphasized it with an unsave-able goal. When the half ended, United walked into the tunnel with a 3-0 lead after a bit of fortune gifted Rooney a tap-in.
There’s wide agreement that a 3-0 scoreline did not adequately reflect the contest. Chelsea had a series of awful misses, particular one from Ramires after some good interplay between Torres and Mata. Still, the scoreline may have shown Andre Villas-Boas the perils of trying to take it to United in the Theatre of Dreams.
Fernando Torres broke his duck for the season just 33 seconds into the second half when Anelka put him through and the Spaniard finished in cheeky fashion. That would be the last strike that either team would put into the net. Rooney hit a penalty wide and later scuffed a tap-in against the post later in the match. Berbatov also missed an open net. Did I forget about Torres’s big moment? I’d like to, but no. All life was essentially taken out of the game when Torres rounded David De Gea and failed to score on an open net. The collective yelp that went around Old Trafford compounded his embarrassment. My favorite moment of the match was the jeer that rang around the stadium when Michael Carrick passed it back to the goalkeeper. Even one backward pass in this match seemed out of place.
When the match ended, I was surprisingly not that upset, being a Chelsea fan. I was most upset for Torres, whose MOTM (for Chelsea) performance was drowned out by one miskick at the end of the match. I came out of the game feeling that these two teams were much closer than I thought they had been previously. The scoreline showed a gulf in class, but the performance didn’t. Here’s to waiting for February 5th, 2012, when Manchester United travel to Stamford Bridge. As it will be broadcast live before the Super Bowl, we can only hope that they provide as good an advertisement for the game (if possible) as this match.
On a personal note, I’ve just created a Twitter account for the first time – follow me @am08h. Cheers!