Talking Points: Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United

Authors: Doron and Nik

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Manchester United were down in London to try and match City’s win over Fulham and go level on points again with their neighbours at the top of the table. De Gea returned in goal whilst Rooney and Young came back from injuries to start. Chelsea were forced to give Gary Cahill a debut at the back as they suffered from a few injuries. Having been 3-0 down after 50 minutes, United fought back to draw 3-3 but can maybe feel aggrieved to have not taken maximum points.

Here we discuss the talking points of the game and invite Chelsea fans to join in the discussion below.

3 defensive errors = 3 simple goals

The first goal was quite simple to analyse in that Patrice Evra should really be nullifying the threat of Sturridge once the Chelsea player had moved into the box. Sturridge was able to exploit the right side for most of the game with Young not as adept as Park in a defensive positions from the wide left position. (It’s hindisight analysis at its best, but as mentioned below, perhaps Park over Young would have been the smarter choice here.) Once in the position, a trademark shimmy and drop of the shoulder sold Evra short and the Englishman was able to earn a little luck by reaching the by-line and crossing the ball low and hard into the crowded six-yard box. To give Evra a reasonable amount of credit, he aimed to jockey rather than dive in, and was probably wary of showing the youngster inside where he has been deadly of late on his left foot.

The second goal, though exquisite from the little Spaniard, was largely avoidable. Throughout the game, Ferdinand had seemingly been instructed to track Torres whenever in his ‘operational zone’; whether this is in response to the history United (and Vidic in particular) have with Torres is not clear, but nonetheless the scenario materialised. Instead of the pacier and more agile of the two centre-backs in Evans performing this role, Rio marshaled Torres high and wide, which in hindsight was a glaring error (he is far more suited to sitting the deeper of the two centre-backs, reading the game with aplomb). Within a minute of the restart, Rio was thus dragged to the far right side of Chelsea’s attack where Torres typically finds joy in receiving the ball; Evra quickly covered in the centre, and as Ferdinand retreated having left the forward in a ‘safe’ position, the ex-Liverpool man timed his cross to perfection, with Mata – left entirely free by the re-shuffled pack of Rafael, Evans and Evra – finishing superbly on the volley from close range.

The third goal was a farce from start to finish. Having received the ball on the halfway line from Evra, Giggs turns into trouble as his first touch unusually evades him, allowing Meireles to intercept. Sturridge is then able to get a run at the out-of-position Evra, with the latter tripping the forward conceding the freekick. Once again, Mata influences the game here; as with his wonderfully flighted direct freekick in the closing stages, the cross for this particular goal was equally as well executed. Amazingly however, United’s backline is disorganised in the extreme – there are seven United defenders to Chelsea’s three forward players at the time of delivery (see below); Rooney and Rafael are spare at the back whilst Evans and Rio marshal Torres and Sturridge respectively. Luiz (6 foot +), the goal-scorer, sits between Evra and Carrick. With one simple verbal instruction, Ferdinand could have ushered the line 2 meters to the left, meaning that he matched the Portuguese’s height, with Evans and Rooney picking up the remaining players. He moves a fraction too late and with that Chelsea should have put the game to bed. This was defensive zonal marking at its worst, and Fergie would have been apoplectic.

7 United players vs. 3 Chelsea players

4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3: subtle yet effective

Fergie outshone AVB with his changes from the side. Losing 0-3, Hernandez quickly replaced Young (who looked jaded and not ready to replace the recently astute Park), and just past the hour mark we saw the introduction of Scholes, with the resulting tactical change being hugely influential to the outcome. Rafael had once again showed why he is United’s best option at right fullback, and in one sense can think himself as unlucky as he was at the Emirates to be withdrawn. However, Fergie’s thinking here should be rewarded, and the broader tactical shift at this juncture recognised. With Hernandez already on, the boss wanted to move from the starting shape of 4-2-3-1 to a more direct 4-3-3 – the resulting effect being that the midfield trio was able to play in closer union, and with greater width being applied in the final third. With Rooney operating closer to the (Mexican) striker with Welbeck pushing wide right and Giggs (who struggled defensively in a central role during key phases) moving wide left, it also allowed Scholes and Carrick to re-assert United’s influence in the middle Chelsea’s brief ascendancy.

Fergie, who chose not to select Scholes for the 3rd time in a week despite his excellent form (self-inflicted then given the manager’s precision planning) was probably always going to use the midfielder for half an hour either way, whether chasing the game or for protecting a lead. By removing Rafael instead of say, Giggs, he tried to exploit Chelsea’s apparent lack of width on the left side – with Bosingwa and Malouda pinned back by Valencia (see chalkboard 1), Mata in a free role and Torres drifting horizontally throughout. Valencia was thus sure to see more of the ball high up the field than at the Emirates, and sure enough, his astute one-two with Welbeck down the right ended in Rooney’s parried shot, and Giggs’ sublime assist for Hernandez.

Chalkboard 1: Valencia able to curtail Malouda influence starting deep

Giggs’ width proved crucial then, again just like his assist for Valencia at the Emirates after a similar shift in position (and his vital assist for Rooney there in the Champions League); the application of the cross was executed with the experience of a trained assassin, able to block out the chaos that surrounded him, he picked out the excellent movement of Hernandez who had evaded Luiz not once, but three times in quick succession. At 1-3 United were now keeping Chelsea’s fullbacks in retreat, restricting Matas influence, and allowing Rio to defend and keep his position without worrying about Torres; and Rooney to collude with greater fluidity as part of a front four. AVB’s removal of Sturridge for Romeu on the other hand was textbook naivety – as a player who operates in a highly static defensive role, it was a change that was unsuited to such a frenetic and fast-paced game. Fergie’s re-jigging allowed United to claim a vital point from a seemingly impossible situation.

Maturing Rafael

Right back has been an interesting spot this season with Smalling, Jones and Valencia playing more in that position than the squad’s stand-out natural right back, Rafael. It would seem that the twins are made of glass, every time they get fit they then pick up an injury again soon after – Rafael recently acknowledged this may have something to do with his whole-hearted attitude to playing and says he won’t curb it.

In his short United career so far, Rafael’s been associated more with his attacking play – direct, skilful and dangerous; as opposed to his defending. Rather, he’s been criticised for being rash, too enthusiastic and somewhat naive. However, his recent return to the first team after injury has seen something of a new Rafael.

Chalkboard 2: Rafael tackles against Chelsea and Arsenal

His new found maturity has seen defensive work and learning pay off as he’s managed to replicate Evra but on the right hand side. His reading of players, particularly the more elusive, skilful opponents is superb and he no longer dives into tackles too early but has nearly perfected picking the opportune moment to commit. The chalkboards above show how solid he was against both Chelsea and Arsenal (not shown is the Liverpool game but he was great in that too). So much so, that of the full backs, he’s got the best tackle success rate this season (69% – by comparison, Evra is 64%) and makes more tackles per game than any other player in the squad.

Rooney grafts again

Rooney received a lot of praise after the Arsenal game for his work-rate and ‘team performance’. The same can be said of him this time round too. For a lot of the first half he cut a peripheral figure – involved in flashes of neat passing but with little zest to his game. After half time and United had fallen three behind he morphed into a different player.

Despite missing the Liverpool and Stoke games due to injury, he was tireless today, chasing and hounding Chelsea players all over the pitch. He was particularly impressive when picking the ball up deep, beating one man before accelerating forward into space that seemed to open up in front of him. In the latter stages in particular he was finding space in the style of a classic ‘number 10’ – between the lines, much like Van der Vaart does – and was therefore almost impossible to pick up.

Chalkboard 3: Rooney’s passing and tackling

The one area of Rooney’s game that was poor today was his final ball. As can be seen above, most of his failed passes came when attempting balls in the final part of the pitch. In fact, he failed to make a single successful pass to any United player in the area. Maybe this was due to good defending or the sheer number of defenders back for Chelsea, but it was the sole source of frustration in his performance today. It goes without saying, his two penalties were superbly well taken – with 19 goals from 25 games in all competitions this season, he’s once again proving crucial to United.

Rio’s booed

We’ve all done it. When an ex-player returns to the ground he once graced the whistles, jeering and boos ring round like an Atomic Kitten concert at Old Trafford. The boos and jeering and also on show when an opposition player smashes into a player on your side and gets aways with a yellow card or, just a warning. Its infuriating! How dare that man prance around the turf having gotten away with such an injustice. Boos ringing around a ground are part of the pantomime of football, which should never change. But to boo someone, possibly based upon the fact that they are the relation of a person who reported a racist incident against the captain of their football club – is one of the most moronic things I’ve ever heard.

I want to find out from Chelsea fans (those who agreed with the booing and those that opposed it) what the reason was for it? Is it because Ferdinand is the brother of Anton Ferdinand? Is it because Rio Ferdinand doesn’t (apparently) see eye to eye with the Chelsea skipper? Is it because Rio Ferdinand shunned the captaincy based upon the circus the last time? We’re interested to find out as I couldn’t work out the reason for the booing. Perhaps if the mother of both Rio and Anton were present she get some stick as well? Since they’re related, of course.

Fan mentality suggests that once a pocket of fans start booing, others will follow – there’s a good chance a lot of the fans actually had no idea why they were booing Rio. Anyways, it is quite clear to see the stance here, but I’m trying very hard to see a logical argument for it. We, as always, welcome sensible debates and points – so any Chelsea fan that wants to discuss this maturely, is more than welcome.

Other thoughts:

Finally there was some positivity around De Gea after the game. He could do nothing about any of the goals conceded and definitely played a part in winning a point. In the last minutes of the game, Juan Mata’s fabulous free kick look destined for the top corner but De Gea at full stretch produced a world class save to keep the scores level. For a keeper who’s ability to save long range shots was questioned in Spain, that was a stunning moment of goalkeeping.

Paul Scholes. There was a lot of cynicism around his return to the side but if possible he looks even fitter and better than any time in the past four years. His introduction, coupled with the change in shape had a huge impact on the game. His ability to control the tempo of play and still ping balls across the pitch at will is a huge asset. As mentioned on Twitter, his return just highlights how mad it was to not replace him in the summer.

Should Fergie have started Hernandez instead of Welbeck? As soon as Hernandez came on he had Cahill and Luiz scared, holding a high line and making clever darting runs. Indeed his movement for the equaliser was outstanding and undefendable. Welbeck had been working hard all game and has been excellent recently but he seemed to drop deep too often and maybe got too emotionally involved with the defenders. After the game, Fergie said:

“To be honest, I maybe should have played Chicharito from the start. When he came on, he just had them on toast really. He really put them under pressure with his movement and positional play. Danny Welbeck has been terrific and he’s going to be a top player. But when Chicharito came on in the second half, it was a different game.”


Another season where United leave Stamford Bridge without three points. Despite playing well and being denied a penalty, United found themselves behind at half-time. Daniel Sturridge’s quick feet and trickery saw him beat Evra before pulling the ball back across goal where it hit Evans and went in. After the break United were quickly three behind. First Torres’ cross was superbly volleyed in from close range by Mata before Luiz’s header took a huge deflection off Ferdinand and left De Gea with no chance.

Ferguson’s reaction was to gamble and change the shape of the team. It paid off as United scored two quick penalties won by Evra and Welbeck – the second a little fortunate as Welbeck seemed to trip himself up. Rooney took both penalties well and United found themselves level after 80 minnutes. Rooney’s shot was parried wide by Cech but Giggs was the first to react and his ball in found Hernandez unmarked (due to great movement) and he easily scored. United couldn’t find a fourth to produce a remarkable comeback but had De Gea to thank for any points at all – Juan Mata’s late free-kick look destined for the top corner until a wonderful outstretched hand of De Gea kept it out.

All in all a point was a good return considering what had happened but it’s hard not to feel that United should have won the game and, as usual, only made it difficult for themselves – the draw shouldn’t mask the fact Chelsea were there for the taking and United should have returned north with three points. United next face Liverpool at home in the league on Saturday in the lunch time kick off.

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14 Comments on Talking Points: Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United

  1. I didn’t see the change from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 you describe here. Who were the midfield three when we made the change? Rooney did drop deeper but I feel the shape was generally still 4-2-3-1. I agree with most points however. All Chelsea goals were down to poor defending and the changes Sir Alex made did seize the initiative and save a point. Why though do we have wait to make those changes until we are behind.

    I thought the pattern of the game was set by two players. Essien for most of the first half and Scholes for the last half hour. United’s game plan didn’t seem to address the problems Essien would create. Maybe all his injuries mean that he is no longer one of the top five players in the world but fit and in form he is surely still top ten.

  2. The key moment in the match took place in the tenth minute when Howard Webb didn’t make the call concerning Gary Cahill’s trip on DannyTheLad. It was an “odd” key moment in that nothing changed – but, really, everything should have changed (and would have changed) if that penalty and red card was given. Down to ten men, without their key players – EBJT, Ca$hley ‘ole, PhatPhwank, and the Diddler – the RentBoyz would have collapsed like a cheap suitcase. As we all know, sins of omission are frequently as crucial as sins of commission. This was one such instance. But, as we also know, shit happens and the roller-coaster ride ain’t over yet.

  3. Strange isnt it I thought that Man U were as much there for the taking as others suggest Chelsea were. Chelseas keeper wasnt called into as much action as Man Us and in reality I thought many many of HW decisions were questionable.
    Dealing with shirt pulling its something that happens, almost without sanction, time after time.
    Another point of interest for me is just how much Man U are depending on players who are far nearer to retirement than possibly the elder Chelsea elemment

    As for the booing well I dont boo at all be it ours or indeed but it something that has crept in, As for Rio I cant answer why he was booed but the press have stirred things up in the JT issue whereas my guess is he would rather have kept his head down.

  4. i totaly surprized carrick still play 4 united and young should be back to astonvilla he is not a type player that united want he is over over rated he even cant play for a team he just play to him self so he must leave united nd the old guard giggs his play time is over he just play onely 10 to 20 mints only scholesy is by far the best player than giggs or useless carrick i perfer even young Pogba than carrick he event cant tackle or play one to one like keno so fergi pls think now we need a player lik modric u have to sell z likes of berbatov,carrick,owen,young,nd giggs must retire these seson couse he is already tooooooooooooooo old for united he just play to get his record only we have players lik Poguba ,tancllife, cleverly and if u buy 2 midfilders and one left footed winger united ll be Cl winners next year

  5. hi mancs, thanks for letting me contribute to your page. well done on a great comeback and a contribution to a memorable game. we were fortunate to be 3-0 up but the composure and precision (scholes, giggs, rooney) showed was a joy, even for me to see. what an incredible player scholes is… your form from the 55th to the 80th minute reminded me of man yoo teams of old. welbeck dived, but that’s the modern game and i thought in the end it was a fair, if slightly disappointing, result. we were, as we have been all season, a team without personality and we really didn’t know what to do once we were three up. but imagine having to play intelligent football with merieles and bosingwa in your team. we had a lot of players out though and did well in the end. none of us are sure about AVB, he seems a nice guy but seems to be having trouble firstly understanding himself how he wants to play and then transmitting what he decides to the team. anyway, fourth is the best we can hope for. just an observation on the booing, firstly i hate it. the players are just people, warts and all, and although it knocks some off their stride, most (especially away from home) thrive on it, as rio did. unfortunately rio did himself no favours by appearing on football focus and talking about his brother and by default, john terry, he should have said no to the interview in the first place, but he is a darling of the media. the ferdinands (including les) had closed ranks immediately on an issue that should never have left the pitch. surely it was in support of his elder, and far better, brother that anton wanted the notoriety in the first place. does anyone seriously think that someone who has grown up around so many black players (some of whom, like their white counterparts may indeed be c u next tuesdays) as JT has can seriously be racist? marcel desailly has come out in support of him and he plays in the same team as the king of africa, didier drogba. it’s a pathetic charge drummed up by some sense of frustrated and misguided loyalty for his brother in an atmosphere of the first derby our neighbours have played us in the top flight for 10 years – an atmosphere that can only be described as rabid. you should have heard what they were saying to lamps about his dead mum every time he went over to take a corner. he’s not exactly (see 50 cent) a beacon to the black community after paying for a film glorifying black on black violence like dead man running… by the way, how come joey barton tweets and gets threatened with going to jail and rio isn’t, even though they are discussing the same thing?
    hope you beat city to the title, if nothing else to prove that you really can’t just go out and buy it.

  6. carrick has been impressing since november i think the best midfielder for us this season,i think evra was at fault for 2goals

  7. Great review as ever, I found the switch when Scholes entered really interesting. Scholes positioning in front of the back two and Evra/Valencia as wing backs gave us a very flexible attacking shape in which Rooney in particular thrived. I agree on the introduction of Romeu being ill-considered and pivotal. For a manager lauded for his tactical awareness Villas Boas was out-thought by Ferguson in the second half.

  8. I think the criticism of Carrick is very unfair. Carrick has had a bad couple of seasons, but has been much improved and you could say he has really stepped up to the plate in the aftermath of the City game. Initially after that game United adopted a very cautious approach to stabalise our season and ensure we didn’t fall any further behind City in a period when they were on fire. Then as we began to play a more expansive game Carrick began to deliver. I feel lots of United fans are judging him on the way he has performed in previous seasons and just haven’t noticed the improvement. I’m not sure what they are watching actually?

    There is though a question mark around whether he is as effective when he plays alongside Scholes and in my view their always has been that question. Arguably his play hasn’t been as affective since Scholes return. He still has a positive influence though.

  9. I think Evra is getting too much criticism for the first goal. He had to stand off Sturridge a bit — Sturridge is too quick and the risk of a pen too great. Evra properly forced him to his right and Utd were unlucky with the ricochet.

    I agree that Cahill was lucky to be on the pitch, though one replay I saw seemed to show him touching the ball. If that’s what Webb saw (and who really knows), then the non-call can be justified I suppose. I’m sure from the replays that contact began outside the box, though.

  10. Tom @ 7:18. When TheGingerNinja came on, UTD played 3-5-2 and the RentBoyz went into a shell. EXACTLY THE WRONG STRATEGY for CSKALondon and a gift to UTD/Scholes whose vision, control, and distribution are still top-class but who struggles when pressed. AV-B totally out-managed by SAF.

    Some of the criticism against Evra is OTT but, still, he has been found “at fault” too often. Why ? Is it mental burn-out or a decline in his amazing physical endurance ? In my opinion, the guy needs a fortnight’s beach holiday – NOW !

  11. Hi Manutdtactics

    I thought there was a rather clear shift in emphasis with the introduction of Scholes and Javier. We started with a back four with Carrick and Giggs just in front, with Rooney at the tip of the diamond (crucial point here is that he ‘sat’ on Meireles or Essien). Once we made the substitutions, Giggs was pushed wide left (further up than would be expected in a typical 4-4-2) and Welbeck wide right. The difference between this new formation (with Javier the focal point), was that the onus was on these two players to keep their width, and move wide-to-centre, rather like the Sturridge role for e.g. – In a 4-2-3-1, the emphasis is on a more fluid approach behind the central striker; so Young and Valencia were often starting very narrow and moving both vertically and towards the touch-line, combining with the floating Rooney.

    As described above then, Rooney, Carrick and Scholes were able to play in closer vicinity to each other (Rooney slightly ahead obviously, but still deep as per chalk above). There was hence less emphasis on a defensive shield by the two CM’s, and there was a notable forward shift in starting position of this MF trio. – – Pinning back the Chelsea back ‘6’, and allowing us to re-assert our dominance.

    Hope this helps explain my brief summary in the piece itself.

  12. Hello Sleepy Nik,

    I agree with everything you say and for me the difference between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 is sometimes only the difference in the position and movement of the wide players. I think you are absolutely correct about the changes made through the substitutions, and the strength of United’s use of 4-2-3-1 is always fluidity. With fluidity of course formations change all the time.

    Rooney Carrick and Scholes were able to play closer together because Rooney’s starting position was now deeper and because Scholes and Carrick, but for me noticeably Scholes was playing significantly higher. Rooney starting deeper gave him slightly more space to turn and move, often with the ball, towards the Chelsea goal, feeding other forward players. Wellbeck fluidity and his movement inside created space for Valencia to move forward from deeper. This strategy also worked at Arsenal when Park was the player moving inside for Valencia to advance. I always feel that Valencia is a more potent player when he has run from deep and got up a head of steam as he approaches the oppositions defence.

    This all came together for the third goal, with Valencia’s initial thrust, and then when Giggs delivered the ‘second phase’ ball Wellbeck’s move inside mean’t that United had three players in the box. This was significant in that the Chelsea central defenders were caught between these players not knowing who to pick up.

    I also feel that you are right about the midfield two no longer playing as a defensive shield, as when they do we can’t dominate the game. None of the players we usually play there are able to tackle well. It therefore takes us a long time to win the ball back. We don’t then establish a period of sustained pressure. It is my view that it is for this reason that Sir Alex has tried both Rafael and Jones in this area on a number of occasions this year. To play this way and win the ball back early we really need someone in front of the back four who is adept at tackling as well as intercepting.

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