Samuel Eto’o scores a hattrick for Chelsea against Manchester United
As you may have heard, Manchester United went to Stamford Bridge and lost 3-1 to Chelsea in a slightly strange game. United played some very decent football, especially in the first fifteen minutes, yet they were fully deserving of the defeat. Moreover, they lost to a Chelsea side that didn’t play particularly well, and who only moved out of second gear three or four times in the entire match. Here are some thoughts on the game – as usual, we’d love to hear from both sets of fans in the comments*.
A good start, and wasted opportunities
United made a very good start, reminiscent of the 2011 Champions League performance at Chelsea which, incidentally, was one of the very few times when Fergie showed a full mastery over the West London team. Encouragingly, Adnan Januzaj found himself on the ball with regularity, and created some decent opportunities with clever footwork and some dangerous balls into the centre. On the flanks, Young and Evra got off to a decent start going forward, and Young had a good shooting opportunity in the first minute, saved by Cech. Valencia had the beating of Azpilicueta in the opening half-hour, and he was enthusiastically supported by Rafael going forward. With Hazard only tracking back intermittently, the duo on the right side often found ample space in which to work, only to be let down by some disastrous crossing – Rafael was especially guilty of this.
But then came the goal – a loopingly-deflected shot after Eto’o had left Jones for dead. With the concession, United lost their prior momentum, and more alarmingly, their confidence. Even after Chelsea had gone 3-0 up, there was not a shred of indignance among the United players. A long-past-it shadow of Samuel Eto’o bagged a hat trick against United; if I were them, I’d be livid. Players who previously viewed losing situations as personal affronts, players who would frequently summon ferocious attacking drive to ensure that a game was not lost. There was none of the defiance that pulled them back from 3-0 down against Chelsea in 2012. It is not that they did not try – they self-evidently did – but that even in trying, it never looked like they believed they could turn the situation around.
Things weren’t helped by the singular shitbaggery of David Luiz, who could easily have acquired four or five yellow cards in the first half for rough tackling, body checks and elbowing. Disappointingly, United had no players capable of inflicting enjoyable violence upon the infuriating Brazilian turd burglar.
Bad luck, worse defending
If the first Chelsea goal could be reduced to bad luck, the second and third were the result of an embarrassing negligence to defend set pieces properly. Rafael’s dopey excursions and Vidic’s baffling decision to play Eto’o onside helped create Chelsea’s second, and Evans’s woeful ghost-marking of Gary Cahill facilitated their third. What’s strange about all this is that, even under the most uncharitable assumptions about Moyes, one could reasonably have expected his United team to be well organised defensively, both from open play and at set plays. This has proved definitively not to be the case. Worse still, the defence has had its most decisively adverse impact in the games against the top teams. Recall City’s second – again, from a set play; again, just before halftime – at the Etihad in September, and one has to wonder about the mental strength of the players when faced with their most accomplished opponents. That the side has actually regressed in its set piece defending is one of the most egregious failings of Moyes’s reign so far.
“United played well”
There was a period of time, lasting roughly from kickoff-time until time-that-ball-looped-unfortunately-over-David’s-head, during which Manchester United passed the ball well, showed some menace down the channels, won the ball back with intent, and did other things commonly associated with a football team that broadly knows what it is doing. Beyond that, though, to say that United “played well” against Chelsea is the rough equivalent of saying, during the Ferguson era, that Norwich or Bolton “played well” at Old Trafford when they lost 2-1 or 3-1 rather than the expected 5-0 leathering expected by the patronising patron.
It is also difficult to say that United played well when they defended so abysmally, undoing all of the admittedly good work that was done by the midfielders and Januzaj when in possession. Defending is roughly 50% of playing football, even more so when a side is struggling as United are – accordingly, a side which did not defend well cannot fairly be judged as having played well. Certainly the team showed good intentions, and Mr. Moyes should be applauded for pushing United to play on the front foot in an away match against a title contender; but the fact that we have to seek positives from the mere intentions of the team shows just how far we done fell.
Being an optimistic fellow, I’ve found a few positives that we can take from United’s seventh league loss of the season.
- United’s away support was thoroughly boisterous, not at all perturbed by the events on the pitch. A beacon for United fans all over.
- Adnan Januzaj, confirming what we all suspected, is a badman. Far from being intimidated by the occasion and the difficulty of the opponents, he put in a display of real maturity and responsibility. His decision-making is improving with every game, and his comfort at this level is astonishing for a player so young. Easily our best player on the day.
- Michael Carrick had his first good game since coming back from injury. His passing was more accurate and incisive than in most – if not all – of his previous games this season. His defensive contribution was also very strong, with eight interceptions and three tackles, doing his best to make up for an understandably poor showing by a half-fit Jones. If Carrick can return to the form he showed in the last campaign, United will have a good chance of clawing their way back into the top four.
- Chicharito was very positive after coming on. Not only did he score, but he uncharacteristically dropped deep to help build attacks, and at one point pinged a cross-field pass to Smalling that wouldn’t look out of place in a Paul Scholes video compilation. Given his past form and the rumours about his disaffection, it was pleasing to see him play with such vigour. His excellent scoring form against Chelsea continued.
- At least we have the brave and loyal Wayne Rooney and the not-at-all-injury-prone Robin van Persie to return to the squad soon!
Err, that’s it. Always look on the bright side of life, eh?
* – I would be especially grateful if our resident comment troll, ‘Minimal’, were to make a vitriolic appearance here. Do your worst, mate.