Manchester United have defeated Chelsea by 2-1 at Old Trafford to go one more step closer to their much coveted title number 19th. This victory has taken them six points clear off 2nd placed Chelsea. With only two more league games to go, United need a single point to clinch their fourth title in five years.
It was the game of the season – the title decider. It was the fourth face off between the two clubs (if Community Shield is exempted) in this season. A lot was at stake for both the teams. Chelsea, who were at the top of the table till November, hit rock bottom following the sacking of assistant manager Ray Wilkins and only a string of victories since February was able to put them into the brace of title contenders. Manchester United, fresh from a league defeat at the hands of Arsenal last week, had to prove that they are well on course to bring home the title.
Amidst all expectations and hype surrounding the game, in the end Manchester United made it look simple by pulling the strings right from the word go – opening the scoring through Chicharito in the first minute of the game, 36 seconds to be precise. Since then it was a cat and mouse game for Chelsea but before they could catch anything significant, Vidic headed one more in to Petr Cech’s net to ensure that the title is not changing it’s course any sooner. Expected pressure from Chelsea after the break did help them get one back but United held onto their lead strongly to head home victorious.
Gone in 36 seconds
It took only three touches after the kick off for the ball to reach Park, whose through ball evaded Luiz’s clumsy effort of putting it away as it found Hernandez who made no mistake to score his 20th goal of the season by steering it past an onrushing Cech from an one on one position. An early goal, as early as the first minute of the game, was the last thing Chelsea wanted and since the setback they never looked like making it. Such a high profile game ended as a contest the moment the 1st goal was scored.
The Talking of Old Trafford – Control System
Right from the word go, United kept the pressure up against the three-men narrow Chelsea midfield and for a large period into the first half they created most of the chances, having the lion’s share of possession, precisely 77% deep into the first half. Although it was Chelsea’s turn to show urgency in scoring in this fixture, a goal’s deficit should have brought some sense of urgency in them but it seemed the first goal killed the contest. United were soon rewarded with their persistence in pressurizing Chelsea and keeping possession when Giggs shrugged off his marker and his teasing cross found the head of Vidic who made no mistake to make it 2-0 for the host. Despite the two goals, United did not release the pressure one bit and kept frustrating Chelsea with good ball possession. It was only after the break that United let Chelsea see much of the ball as they preferred to sit back to absorp Chelsea’s pressure and hit hard on counter as they decided to play the waiting game.
When it rains, it pours
Such a high profile game has little margin for error. Chelsea’s defense made two costly mistakes and had to pay dearly for it by conceding two goals. Culprit number one is David Luiz, who, instead of running in the line of the ball preferred to half heartedly thwart it away. He mistimed his stride, made less than expected contact with the ball and it rolled on to Chicharito’s foot instead – leading to United’s first goal.
Culprit number two is Cole, who, instead of facing the ball or guarding any opposition player, was found precariously facing his own goal with little idea about the movement unfolding behind him. Vidic came from behind and neatly headed the ball past a hapless Cech for the second goal. Terry had to play most part of the game defying the pain barrier, as a result of which Mikel and Essien had to put in more defensive duty, almost nullifying Chelsea’s midfield movement.
Fortune favours the lost souls too
Ivanovic was already cautioned earlier for taking out Rooney, as early as the 11th minute of the game. He had no business to chase Rooney down and clip his heel on the 29th minute. Of course, Rooney made a meal out of it after seeing that it was Ivanovic who fouled him. But the fact is that Ivanovic was not even interested to get the ball and should only thank his lucky stars to remain on the field for the next one hour or so.
In the second half, Frank Lampard accidentally handled Valencia’s cross from inside the box. Howard Webb was well positioned to see the event but decided against awarding a penalty to United. Replays showed that Lampard off-balancedly stretched out his leg to thwart the cross away and in motion he unintentionally touched the ball. Lampard’s casual effort was much worthy of a penalty.
Deep into the second half, Hernandez unselfishly squared the ball to an unmarked Rooney following a commendable closing down by Valencia on Cole. Alex, brought on in place of Luiz, made a goalline clearance to keep United off from adding fresh wounds.
Carlo got it wrong again
Chelsea had to win this game to keep their title hopes alive. On the outset it might appear that 4-3-3 was the right choice for this game as the attacking trio are all in goalscoring form of late. But it has been seen in the past, a four/five men midfield is quite capable of marauding Chelsea’s narrow midfield, especially if it is embellished with Mikel and an out of form Essien. Ferguson seemed to have anticipated Carlo’s choice of formation and played a 4-4-1-1 midfield-heavy line up with Rooney to constantly connect the midfield and Chicharito upfront.
Patrice Evra had to be withdrawn following a thigh injury, prior to the match. But Ferguson dealt with the blow and smartly replaced him with Fabio and made him play in the right back position with O’shea on the left. Fabio was installed on the right to keep a check on Cole who is quick. On the other hand Ivanovic is known to have much attacking prowess down the flanks. As it seems United manager has finally been able to tame the Italian shrew.
With this victory, Manchester United are firm favorites to not only win the league (most probably in the very next league game against Blackburn Rovers) but also to knock off Liverpool to become the most successful English domestic club ever. Chelsea, on the other hand, will have to keep the slough of despond at bay especially with Ancelotti’s future in a bleak streak after a trophyless second season. Their fans can just hope that Roman Abramovich will be a bit patient enough with the Italian gaffer’s failure to bring home any trophy this season despite brandishing millions in January transfer window.