Manchester United 0 -1 Chelsea
It was, according to my old mate and midfield partner from the Prestwich Heys team, Rob Cockcroft, in the message he sent me from Pnom Penh, the very worst single display of a team at its worse in at least 34 years. An exaggerations, perhaps, or else an apt clarification of just how mediocre the football has been in the Premier League this season. Having been crowned champions, however, good, bad, or mostly mediocre, as I would have it, the players of Manchester United have quit. All well and good for them. It’s nice to be a millionaire. But, really, for the season ticket holders, satellite dish owners and suckers who order a la carte from their cable supplier, expecting the lads to at least give enough of a damn to try just a bit seems too much. Why is this asking so much? Worse yet, is the sound of my Spurs’ fan acquaintances’ sarcasm, as, humiliated by 63 years of the F.A.’s favoritism, they sincerely wonder why United’s players would prefer not to have them in ECC instead of Spurs. Even the guys on Republica Deportivo posited the idea that not qualifying for the top four will cause Spurs’ owner to flog Gareth Bale to United(and thus why we would let them win!). That, of course, is ridiculous, but no less ridiculous than the fact that Danny Levy would rather sell the Welsh chimp boy to Les Gooners than Us.
Not that Chelsea were particularly good. Going into their 65th match of a long long season, the royal blues had to do without an injured Eden Hazard. Yet, even minus the slick Belgian playmaker, Chelsea were far more creative than a jaded United, who were bound and determined from the get-go not to score at Old Trafford for the first time in 67 league matches, and didn’t. Adding another piquant soup con of insult to treating their millions of fans around the world like a roll of one-ply toilet paper, the red devils appropriated their very first red card of the season as a dimwitted Rafael Da Silva let himself get suckered into retaliating against his fellow Brazilian tormentor, David Luiz.
Yet none of any of this would have mattered a whit had not the indefatigable Oscar not located Juan Mata with an absolutely exquisite pass four minutes from full-time. With Patrice Evra’s elderly legs having given out somewhere after the beginning of the second half, he was a frozen, grinning twit of a witness as Mata seized the moment. Firing a curving left-footer at the bulk of Phil Jones, Mata was like a sniper doing maty in his head, calculating wind and spin and the manner in which United’s goalie Anders Lindegaard–who had virtually nothing to do throughout the game–would angle his dive for the ball. And even though the goal will be credited as a Jones own goal, we’ve all seen enough of these clever Mata deflected masterpieces that they may soon deserve a category all of their own.
Hard to say much about the rest of this match. Chelsea were marginally better in a yawn of a first half. Mata missed twice after nice passes from Demba Ba. Moses shot over the bar and Lindegaard made a single save, smothering a fine shot from Oscar at the post. United’s single tactic seemed to involve always locating Robin van Persie after too many tiki-tiki-tak short passes. Indeed, only Ryan Giggs manage to surprise the flat-footed Chelsea back four as he stole the ball off RVP’s toe and shot past a diving Peter Cech, only to see the ball waylaid by a bump and go a centimeter or so past the post. The old wizard also came close with a header off a Vidic cross, but Cech was there in the way with plenty of time to to smother it.
Poor Tom Cleverley, slow on the uptake as ever, was well set up by both Anderson and Giggs, and allowed all the time in the world on the edge of the box, but twice he hammered the ball on the edge of the area, yet with a better opportunity than he possibly realized the fringe player lacked the composure to take advantage, shooting early and blazing over the bar. Those of you who are as utterly exhausted by the mediocrity of Cleverley and puzzled by Roy Hodgson’s penchant for picking him for England must remember, he simply is not very good and has regressed rather than improved. As he was such a hit under the tutelage of Roberto Martínez at Wigan Athletic, I suggest we put him in a parcel with a bow and pawn him off in some kind of part-exchange for Jamie McCarthy.
Chelsea might have had a penalty at the start of the second half when Giggs hauled down David Luiz as he entered the area. Howard Webb waved away their claims, however, which seemed reasonable as the offense seemed to originate outside the box, though it appeared overly generous of the referee not even to award a free-kick or a red card after Luiz managed to simultaneously take the kick and dive forward as if wounded from behind my a high caliber bullet.
Even introductions of Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres as substitutes didn’t work. Both seemed distracted. Rooney looked particularly enfeebled. All the repeated rumors of Rooney’s transfer requests to leave for new partnerships with Lewandowski at Bayern or Ibrahimovich at Paris S.G. may have been deemed absurd, but there clearly is something wrong once again with Wayne Rooney. His losing of the ball to the aggressive Ramires in his own half is clearly understandable. Goes with the territory? Right! But Wazza’s attitude, having only just arrived on the pitch full of pizzazz, was, one might reasonably expect, to give chase. Ramires, clearly Chelsea’s best, most consistent player this year, was off to the races but clearly exhausted, puffing as he looked all around for someone to pass to. Our stocky little Scouse should have easily been able to run him down, but he did not.
Consequently, although United and Chelsea had each looked deliriously happy enough to settle for a draw. Ramires urinated in the punch bowl. Ramires to Lampard to Oscar who found Mata before the Spaniard fired a masterpiece of a left-footed beauty fit to deflect in off Jones’ back and wrong foot Lindegaard at the far post.
Any last second hope of a last-second United miracle comeback evaporated as David Luiz made easy sucker-work out of his Brazilian compatriot Rafael Da Silva after elbowing him twice and then falling down tragically once again “like a dying swan,” as Fergie put it. United ‘s hotheaded right back really ought to know better now that he is no longer an adolescent. Sure, Luiz was seen all over the world smirking at the referee, Howard Webb, after he sent Fabio off. It was indeed sad for the club to receive its first red card of the season over something so petty. Yet the collective naïveté of the team is not at all touching as it is in a club full of kiddiwinkies like Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa. Nothing cute at all, just embarrassment.
Ferguson was clearly not best pleased when he made his post-match appearance before the press. With his face fixed in a sort of gargoyle state of rictus, the old veteran looked as devastated as he had more than a year ago after the club took a 6-1 home hammering to Manchester City. “The desire was not there,” he said from between pursed lips. “It just wasn’t there.”