On United's draw against Chelsea
With both teams smarting from midweek losses, the FA Cup quarter-final encounter between Manchester United and Chelsea was expected to be a proper cup occasion. In the end, the game finished 2-2 but if one were to look at the game in finer detail, one can only describe it one way: a game of two halves.
Sir Alex opted to start with Rio partnering Evans in the center of defence, with Rafael and Evra on the sides. In midfield, he went with Nani and Kagawa on the wings, with Cleverley and Carrick in the center. Up top, there was Hernandez playing off Rooney. Rafa Benitez opted to go with Cahill and Luiz in the middle, with Azpilicueta and Cole on the sides. Oscar and Moses started on the flanks with Ramirez, Lampard and Mata in the center, with Ba leading the line.
The game was set up to be a cracker. There was a snag, though. Chelsea forgot to turn up for the first half. They were pedestrian at best, and before they knew it, were two goals down. First, Carrick picked out Chicharito with one of the passes of the season, and Hernandez expertly headed it over Cech. Next, Rooney floated in an almost harmless looking free-kick into the penalty area. By harmless, one means that it looked harmless as a direct threat to goal. Somehow it managed to evade pretty much everything and everyone, except a tuft of David Luiz‘s hair (then again, almost anything finds it most difficult to evade David Luiz’s hair) and flew straight into the net. 2-0 in 11 minutes.
All through the first period, United looked to be comfortably in charge, but as the half wore on Chelsea came into the game more and more. That ought to have been a warning sign for United, but it was one that they did not heed to, and ultimately paid the price for. The other sour point for United was Nani walking off injured just before half time. At the break, United were up two nil, and were seemingly cruising.
The second half started with Chelsea showing a whole lot more effort and desire. On the other hand, United looked labored and sluggish. With all the possession that Chelsea did have, they did not really look all that threatening, and the United defence in general, and Rio in particular, were quite comfortably dealing with most of what Chelsea threw at them. Benitez then decided to change his personnel on the pitch with a double substitution. He put Hazard on for the ineffective Moses, and John Obi Mikel for Lampard. The latter substitution led to the supporters crying out, ‘you don’t know what you’re doing!’ As things turned out, however, he did know what he was doing.
Lampard had not really been that great in the gamem and when Mikel came on, he did not do anything spectacular but he did shore up the midfield, adding more steel. The other substitution, however, was the impact. Hazard looked up for it from the word go, and duly took an exquisite shot from the edge of the box that curled into the side netting leaving De Gea with no chance. Two-one; game on. At this point, United looked positively rattled and it looked like there was only one team that would score the next goal. And they did.
Ramires led a fantastic counter that involved Oscar and he duly collected a clever pass from him, cut inside onto his left and curled the ball past an outstretched De Gea. Tw0-two and the comeback was complete. Sir Alex threw van Persie on for Hernandez but the Dutchman failed to create any real impact. Welbeck came on in place of Kagawa and did press Chelsea, but in the end, it accounted for nearly naught.
The game became stretched with end-to-end action, and to their credit, United got slightly better and did attack more. However, even in the closing stages, the best chance to win it did fall to Chelsea. Mata controlled a ball exquisitely and got a shot off that was saved almost miraculously by the outstretched boot of De Gea doing the splits. 2-2 it finished. A replay at Stamford Bridge awaits.
In the end, it was a well contested game that United should, in all fairness, have put to bed long before Chelsea could contemplate a comeback. However, that was not to be and they paid the price for it. What will be disturbing to Sir Alex would have been that spell of about 20 minutes that United could, quite simply, not keep hold of the ball even for a minute at a time. Perhaps not even 30 seconds. A similar spell occurred in midweek as soon as Nani was sent off and United let in two goals. A similar spell in last night’s game led to Chelsea’s opening goal that laid the foundation for Chelsea’s comeback.
Worrying signs indeed.