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Jan 202014

Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United
72383208 72383207 So Right, but So Wrong!How is it possible for Manchester United to get it so right and so wrong simultaneously? David Moyes was tactically daring in a manner I can’t remember before and his plan was actually working. Unfortunately, you have to have the horses and when you don’t–whether it be from the absence of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney or the absent grey matter of his defensive line–you lose! What worked well was the placement of of Adnan Januzaj high up the pitch, usually a step in front of Danny Welbeck, with Welbeck dropping deep to draw the sting out of David Luiz or Ramires. This allowed Januzaj to drift and flit all about the left side of the field, giving Bronislav Ivanovic a heap of headaches.

With Jose Mourinho surprisingly reliant on the aforementioned Ivanovic to play like an old-fashioned sweeper to fill the holes caused by John Terry and Gary Cahill’s lack of speed, Moyes had United pour it on relentlessly down the left flank. Unfortunately, although the tactic worked, the Red Devils proved to be toothless. Ashley Young’s soft shot was saved by Petr Cech and, after a brilliant one-two with Welbeck, Patrice Evra fired into the side-netting. Unfortunately, because he no longer owns the ability to double-clutch on the run , tackle hard, or move laterally, Evra mostly doubled up the work Januzaj needed to do. Too Much of United’s play revolved around Januzaj. Twelve minutes in, he squared superbly for Welbeck, who couldn’t get the ball away from César Azpilicueta. His return pass was well hit, but Januzaj found nobody to pass to and the ball flew sideways past an empty goal.

For the first sixteen minutes United dominated but wasted their half-chances. Indeed, they owned the lion’s share of the ball and held their own against Chelsea’s technically superb midfield. Still, in spite of United’s midfield doing more than just managing to hang in there, however, there was United’s lack of concentration and fortitude at the back. The three three less-than-remarkable goals they conceded came about simply because of mistakes. The fact is that Chelsea never came close to penetrating United in open play. Jose Mourinho may indeed be an astute tactician, but there was nothing adventurous or surprising in the way Chelsea took down United. They were simply superior because they remained focused, relentlessly committed, concentrated and were fully prepared to do their jobs.

At any rate, a hat-trick by Samuel Eto’o kept United in the quicksand of no-Europe-next-season-land as they fell a full fourteen points behind the league leaders, Arsenal. Chelsea maintained the pressure on the Premier League pacesetters and surely ended Manchester United’s chances of retaining their title. Chelsea are now only two points behind leaders Arsenal and one adrift of Manchester City. And by February I predict the rest of the season will be a two horse-race between Manchester City and Chelsea. Meanwhile, United have their backs to the wall on Wednesday as they try to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Sunderland in the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at Old Trafford without their suspended captain, Nemanja Vidic. who starts a three-match ban after receiving a late red card.

Chelsea took the lead after 18 minutes when a weak left-footed shot from Eto’o took an unlucky touch off Michael Carrick’s outstretched leg before squirming over United keeper David de Gea, who might have done better. Minutes later, United were still showing some sharp teeth. A Januzaj cross dissected the Blues’ defence, landing at the feet of Welbeck. Their left back, Cesar Azpilicueta, really did seem to catch the England striker’s leg as he took the shot, but the referee, Phil Dowd, was having none of it after Cech caught the loose ball. After that the determination seemed to fall out of United’s collective will to win.

Then, just on the cusp of half-time, Eto’o drove a dagger into United’s heart, doubling Chelsea’s lead as Cahill squared an easily interceptable pass that United’s whole flat-footed defense frozen. Everybody was a watcher as the Cameroonian striker zipped in to casually thrust home just past De Gea’s outstretched fingertips. Moyes’ half-time pep-talk seemed to do no good whatsoever, however, as, only four miserable minutes into the second half, dreadful marking at a corner allowed an unchallenged John Terry to nod the ball in the direction of goal. De Gea scrambled the loose ball away, but Eto’o was there again, casually tapping the loose ball for his hat-trick.

The remainder of the game was a matter of Chelsea more or less casually retaining possession and United in damage control mode. When Hernandez gave the scoreline a little respectability in the 78th minute, pirouetting only a foot or so in front of the goalmouth to push home a sloppily executed Phil Jones shot, the United fan contingent came to life. With that Mourinho shored up his tired defense by introducing the team’s prodigal son from Benfica, Nemanja Matic, and Hard Man Jon Obi Mikel so that any momentary United late threat was snuffed out for good.

Finally, for no perceptible reason, a clearly frustrated Nemanja Vidic, took out a sprinting Eden Hazard and received the red card the foul deserved. Further to that, despite his team being down to ten men, Rafael Da Silva got some payback on Chelsea’s center back Gary Cahill with a studs-up foul and was extremely fortunate to receive no more than a yellow card.

After the match, David Moyes had a very difficult time holding his head up. “What we don’t do is throw the towel in until we can’t get there. The job is to finish first and we’ll try to do that,” he mumbled.
David Moyes Manchester Un 011 So Right, but So Wrong!

Ivor Irwin

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