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.
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.
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.
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.