Manchester United vs Chelsea: An overview
As half the world sat down to watch Manchester United and Chelsea (the other half watched Liverpool v Spurs), what we witnessed at Old Trafford was the proverbial game of two halves, and even the score validated that. United lined up as I had expected, with Rooney behind Chicarito and between Nani and Kagawa. Chelsea got in Moses to improve the work ethic, while Ramires and Lampard started in the middle with Oscar out on the left.
The opening exchanges belonged to United, and a delightful Carrick long ball put Hernandez through, as Cech made an error coming out for the ball and the header was cushioned past him into the corner of the goal. Chelsea were in disarray, and soon, Rooney too capitalized on the defensive fragility, taking a perfect free kick from out wide. With Cech and the Chelsea defenders willing each other to reach it, none could, and United looked in cruise control. Hernandez was excellent in his hold-up and build-up play throughout the first half. The only player with any ability to create a chance from the Chelsea ranks looked to be the indomitable Mata. He ran and harangued and harassed; but other than that and a couple of pot-shots from Ba, there seemed no danger.
As the second half began, Rafa brought on Mikel for Lampard and Hazard for Moses. The outlook changed; Mikel was asked to do what he does best – stand and defend, while Ramires was given the license to roam. In the first half too, the only Chelsea player with heart had been Ramires, and he had completed a commendable 7 retrievals. With the trinity of Hazard, Mata and Oscar creating intricate passing patterns, the United defence was left chasing shadows. A move that involved 30 passes, in particular, was as good as it could get. And Hazard justified his entry into the game when he curled in an unstoppable shot at De Gea’s far post. Chelsea were doing a United against United. A second goal seemed all but coming and it soon came when Ramires curled in a left footer that De Gea could only get his fingertips to. The goals shook United, and Welbeck and RVP, who had been brought on for Kagawa and Hernandez respectively, started getting into the game. However, United had lost that lethal counter-attack which seemed to be perfect a fortnight ago. With Welbeck out on the left, Rooney came back in midfield with Cleverley falling deeper to trouble the three Chelsea amigos.
The watershed moment of the match came in extra-time, and it involved two Spaniards at their best. Mata plucked a ball out of thin air with his left, took an exquisite touch to bring it in his left foot’s range, and again tried to curl in a goal, but De Gea brilliantly got out a foot to keep United in the tie.
Manchester United Verdict- A great first half, a horrible second half. While before half time the machine was in full flow, there seemed to be a breakdown in the second half. With Nani forced off at HT, a lot of direct wing play got eliminated. Valencia continued his pathetic run, and Hernandez was invisible after half time. Ferdinand was magnificent in defence and, other than the clip on Torres when no one was watching, had a great game.
Chelsea verdict- The converse law applies and Hazard, Mata and Oscar together are on a different planet. After a long time, Chelsea looked more than the sum of their units. A tactical master-stroke by Benitez would not endear him to fans but may get employers interested. Hazard was imperious, so was Mata. The defence was in pieces but gained confidence as the match went on. Other then a double save and conceding two goals, Cech did precious little. The man of the match though was Ramires, as his goal completed the Blue rebellion and his tireless running and commitment were a treat to watch.