Manchester United wins for the first time in Stamford Bridge after ten years.
Chelsea loses a premier league fixture for the first time this season.
Manchester United, the Comeback Kings go 2-0 up within 15 minutes.
Mark Clattenburg graduates from the Howard School of Refereeing.
Jokes aside, let’s concentrate on the part of the match where real football was played, i.e. before the red cards.
Ferguson reverted back to his tried and tested 4-4-1-1 with the return of Ashley Young, who played as the left winger providing the much needed presence of an experienced and dynamic left winger. Cleverly was fielded alongside Carrick mainly due to his pace compared to Scholes mainly to contain Mata.
Di Matteo continued with his no-rotation policy as he put in the same team as the one he put against Tottenham. This meant that their now usual, 4-2-3-1 was in effect with the attacking trio of Mata-Hazard-Oscar linking in the midfield.
This is where Sir Alex Ferguson outclassed Roberto Di Matteo, even when Chelsea had a superior midfield. He opted for a patient, wait and counter game where his men stayed behind and his midfielders left very small gap between their defence and attack, the hole which Mata and Oscar have exploited a lot. With the hole not available, Mata had to drift wide to maintain control allowing the United defence to focus on only Torres and Hazard.
Many were surprised by the Manchester United formation which did not adopt the diamond system they have been playing with recently. Technically, a diamond type formation would have been apt for a team like Chelsea who have a midfield based gameplay involving precision passing and creative gameplay. With only two midfielders, the midfield battle already looked lost for the Red Devils but that is where United’s strength also lied.
A 4-4-1-1 meant that, that the two wide wingers from United were involved a lot in their attacks. With the Chelsea midfield lying in the narrow mid and the Chelsea full backs having to surge forward to provide width United attacked a completely clueless Chelsea backline with quality and were rewarded with two quick goals.
Once United had a two goal lead they simply laid back and sat deep to counter Chelsea’s wave of attacks. That is the point where Chelsea’s superior midfield began to raise the danger flags and De Gea had a lot of work to do soon after. A dangerously swerving free kick from David Luiz was somehow parried away by De Gea with his feet. He was called into action again as Torres headed a good corner which was brilliantly saved by the United keeper.
The resistance was ultimately broken when Chelsea got a free kick thanks to a silly and unnecessary foul by Rooney. Mata made no mistake in taking the 25-yard free kick which curled into the goal with De Gea completely beaten.
The second half started no differently than how the first half ended. De Gea was called into action on his own mistake when he sent an attempted long ball right into the path of a Chelsea player. Chelsea continued to push with Mata and Oscar nicely linking up with Hazard and Ramires even if Torres was completely off-pace.
With the game poised for a brilliant ending, the last thirty minutes looked very promising. That is when everything went bizarre.
REFEREE IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Two red cards in succession and Chelsea had already lost the match. First, Ivanovic made a last man foul on Young which resulted in a straight red card. Simple really, but the other red card is where the Chelsea fans would cry with outrage. Torres dribbled though the United defence and got clipped by Evans on the way. Evans was probably expecting a yellow card for that foul when the Ref booked Torres for simulation. It looked as if the ref did not remember that Torres was already booked and he pulled out the red card after a little delay.
Now whether Torres really was fouled or not is not the question but rather, how did the referee see the challenge? To be fair to him, Torres fell a second too late after the foul on him and as Ferguson mentioned in the post-match press conference, he went down too easily. The correct decision would have been a yellow card to Evans but luck was in his favour.
The second decision where the refereeing was questioned came with Hernandez’s winning goal where he scored from an offside position. This time around, the linesman’s call went wrong, though again to give his some leeway; Petr Cech was blocking his view.
There were a few other decisions which were questionable and the overall refereeing was obviously poor.
Player-wise, Mata was the obvious man of the match for Chelsea as he showed his class and stamped his authority in the midfield. Hazard in particular looked very dangerous as he took on the United defenders without any fear.
The Chelsea defence was frail as Cole’s positioning was horribly exposed by Valencia. David Luiz had a poor day as he continued to frustrate the Chelsea fans with his casual gameplay. He failed to contain Van Persie in anyway.
Van Persie looked imperious and led the United attack with example supported very well by Valencia and Rooney. Cleverly had a poor game as did Evans who was very awkward defensively.
Overall, the Red Devils got an embarrassing win but a win is a win, no matter how and Manchester United would be thankful that the gap between them and Chelsea is so small now.
Published with permission from The Rational Pie.