Manchester United vs Chelsea: Five talking points
Manchester United failed to put their Champions League demons behind them with an abysmal second-half performance at Old Trafford, which allowed Chelsea to make up a two-goal deficit and earn a replay for a place in the semi-final against Manchester City. A flying start and a dominant performance in the first-half were capped by goals from Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney for the home side, while Eden Hazard and Ramires struck for the visitors. It was truly a game of two contrasting halves, with Chelsea dominating the latter and nearly winning it outright, with substitute Hazard playing a key role alongside Juan Mata.
Excellent vision from Michael Carrick was what got United off to a flying start in front of home fans, with Hernandez providing a looping header at the end of a chip over the defence. With multiple options available to him, Carrick picked the perfect one: spotting the run of Hernandez and playing an inch perfect ball to him. With Petr Cech caught in no man’s land, the Mexican star simply cushioned a header beyond the Chelsea ‘keeper’s reach to score in his fourth consecutive game against the Londoners.
Another case of shambolic defending from the visitors, and another instance in which Cech didn’t quite cover himself in glory. A free-kick from the Englishman, who has recently been in the news over his future at United, was well directed towards the far post, leaving Cech in two minds over which side to cover. If he had expected any help from his defence, it did not come, as a slight graze off David Luiz’s hair was the closest the ball came to a Chelsea head before bouncing into the net ahead of Evra, who was arriving at the far post. A tame goal to concede, and one which put United in the driver’s seat, at least for the first half.
It was a goal which sparked Chelsea, and the game, back into life more than anything else. With both teams trading possession after United’s early lead had been established, Chelsea’s slow crawl back into the game was kicked into gear with an indescribably beautiful goal. Approaching the United box from the left side, Hazard took advantage of the space provided by Rafael to curl one with his right foot into the far corner, with de Gea not even attempting a save. Certainly left a few United fans wishing he had signed for their club in the summer.
It was the result of United’s decision to return Chelsea’s favour and be incredibly sloppy in defence, with no one willing to pick up runs from the Chelsea midfield, or to run with the carrier of the ball. The feint from the Brazilian to send Jonny Evans the wrong way and open up the goal for himself on his left foot was a mere formality in comparison. de Gea will consider himself unlucky to have conceded this one though, as he managed to get fingertips to it but saw it end up in the corner of the net any way, having been deceived by the bounce.
With all the issues and controversies that have plagued the Blues thus far in the season, one would expect them to be quite blue and in tatters. However, as yesterday’s game showed, the desire to win seems to still be in place at the club, and with that, they can hope to achieve something positive at the end of the season. More than just the substitutions, it was perhaps what Rafael Benitez said to his players at the half-time break which seemed to make the difference, as his side came out looking entirely different from the one that had left the pitch. A well deserved plaudit, which few at Stamford Bridge will give the Spaniard credit for.