C h e l s e a 2 -3 M a n c h e s t e r U n i t e d
This was one crazy classic of a game at Stamford Bridge. To say it was controversial would be a massive understatement. And although Chelsea had their clerks and solicitors up all night, ready to file a sackful of grievances when the F.A. opened for business on Monday morning, there was a kind of innate Chelsea fatigue growing among fans of the English game throughout the world on the blogs. Along with love for the beautiful game often played here at its very highest performance level fans are disgusted vis-à-vis Chelsea being a collective group of drama queens who take being bad losers to the penultimate point of perceived no return. The match was, nevertheless, a marvelous entertainment that will be long remembered. Its referee Mark Clattenburg, who has been a magnet for criticism often in the past, may have been instrumental in the wanton self-destruction of his own career after this great, eccentric match is replayed again and again by the fans, a gloating media and at least one angry club. Yet, it was, all of it, a shame because, above all, it was a brilliant match played at the highest level by two great teams with a sense of abandon and beauty that often took our collective breath away. Not to mention Manchester United’s first league win at Stamford Bridge for a decade.
The pre-match hype had been enormous. With Chelsea unbeaten and Manchester United simultaneously playing its worst defense since the days of Tommy Docherty and relegation while also playing some of its best attacking football since the treble year of 1998-99, the bookies and the pundits were in the pink taking bets for and against Fergie’s bipolar United. So who would have expected United to take a 0-2 lead within the first twelve minutes and then Chelsea to fight back to a 2-2 tie before Clattenburg handed out red cards to both a deserving Bronislav Ivanovic in the 63rd minute and, shortly after, a perhaps less deserving Fernando Torres for simulation six minutes later? The upshot of a second yellow card for Torres, who is, admittedly, one of the poorer divers in the Premier League, was perhaps the culmination of many seasons of frustration Clattenburg and his refereeing colleagues have often felt about Torres. Clattenburg’s timing and judgment, however, in the midst of a brilliant, thrilling match, seem to point to his owning massive ego on a par with the players.
Down to nine men, Chelsea’s boss, Roberto Di Matteo had every right to be aggrieved about the previous series of events which lead to United’s decisive and of course controversial winning goal. in the 75th minute Javíer Hernández was definitely in an offside position when Rafael da Silva took an awkward shot. Back and forth and in and out of an offside position, the Mexican striker was onside at the moment Rafael’s shot fooled Chelsea’s goalkeeper Petr Cech as he reached out to stab the loose ball home. Having watched the goal a half dozen times, it’s certain that Hernandez was onside when he actually scored, but twice offside in the moments leading up to it. And so United nicked one away and Chelsea’s unbeaten start was kaput.
At any rate, it was a pulsating brilliant match which United began brilliantly with Valencia’s line hugging runs down the right flank impossible for Chelsea’s veteran left back Ashley Cole to cope with. Ashley Young, starting his first game since August, was prominently involved on the other flank and far more contained than he’s previously been with United previously. Ably assisted by Wayne Rooney, who left no blade of grass untrammeled, the two wingers repeatedly helped set up a brilliant unmarkable Robin Van Persie. Thus, after only three frantic minutes, Rooney broke on the right, fed Van Persie and the brilliant Dutchman’s right-foot shot rattled the post before bouncing off the manic David Luiz into the net.
Vulnerable down the left, Sir Alex Ferguson altered what has been a diamond formation to a more traditional 4-4-2 because Chelsea’s left-wide Eden Hazard kept moving into a more central positioning leaving Ashley Cole all alone and exposed to Rafael and Valencia. Thus, eight minutes later, Rafael steamed past Hazard, flicking to Valencia who had oodles of time time to cross for an exquisite Robin van Persie finish. Two up, United played their best football for the next ten minutes since the 2007-08 season.
For the opening half an hour it was difficult to think United had been more impressive at any other point this season. Yet it all started to come undone just two minutes before half-time as Rooney hacked at Eden Hazard’s ankles just outside the box. Juan Mata, Chelsea’s free-kick specialist then fired off a brilliant left-foot shot into the top corner that United’s goalie David De Gea missed by a fraction of an inch.
At 1-2, at home, Chelsea came out for the second half completely revitalized. Retaining the ball more consistently, Mata took over with the high octane assistance of Hazard and Oscar. David de Gea, United’s goalkeeper, made five fine saves, doing particularly well to keep out a Torres header while. a clumsy but brave Evans turned a cross off his own post and Rooney booted away a Gary Cahill header. Wave after wave of Chelsea attacks kept United on the brink of a tie and then, 53 minutes in, the hummingbird-like Oscar stole the ball away from a sloppy Cleverley before passing high across the penalty area for Ramires to head past De Gea.
Yet the incidents which followed the match being tied score seem inevitable in retrospect. There ought to be no dispute about the validity of the first dismissal as Bronislav Ivanovic clipped Ashley Young’s heels as the forward ran clear on goal. This is especially valid considering the patient early warnings the garrulous Clattenburg had given the Serb after over-the-top fouls on Rooney and Cleverley. The first booking for Torres should have been for his two-footed De Jongesque karate kick on Tom Cleverley early on. Instead it came a minute after Juan Mata’s superb free-kick had put Chelsea back into the game, Yet it seemed harsh that Clattenburg decided Torres had been trying to deceive him when the Spaniard ‘flew’ past Jonny Evans. The replays showed there had been a slight touch , so when Clattenburg reached for his pocket, every one thought a yellow card would have gone to Evans. Instead it was a second yellow card for Torres and, after that, it was not particularly surprising the away side took advantage of their extra numbers.
A great win for United, as well as what was their best first-half in years. Only a point back behind Chelsea now and tied with Manchester City, United are surely feeling good. Hopefully, despite Chelsea’s rage at Clattenburg, the fact that it was a fantastic game of football should not escape us. Unfortunately, Mr. Clattenburg, like his refereeing colleague, Howard Webb, owns the kind of personality that demands attention. However the explosive charges of racism leveled by Chelsea’s Obi Mikal Jon play out–this is not the first incident of this type he has been involved in –the quality of the game itself must not be forgotten!