Unimpressive even at 3-0 up, Chelsea's capitulation at the hands of Manchester United confirmed another backward step taken for the Blues.
From Sir Alex Ferguson’s perspective, Chelsea’s distorting 3-0 lead was much more galling because the Blues’ defence is as secure as their absent captain’s international future. Their porousness this campaign will not abate via the signing of Gary Cahill, who was fortunate not to be sent off 11 minutes into his debut after his positioning and sluggishness was exposed by Danny Welbeck. Beside him, defending is not David Luíz’s forte despite a cultured penchant for distribution. Then at 3-2 André Villas-Boas made an admission that was damaging to his own credentials as a top-tier manager. Daniel Sturridge was sporadically effective yet embarrassed Patrice Evra twice for two of Chelsea’s goals, although his defensive ineptitude irked his coach, increasingly concerned by Manchester United gaining a foothold. Overzealously he had engineered the Reds’ comeback by fouling Evra inside the box, only at the behest of Villas-Boas’ advice to track back. Via introducing Oriol Romeu into the fray with the goal deficit just one, he confirmed his own culpability in Sturridge’s rashness and withdrew a string from Chelsea’s attacking bow. Most tellingly though, he confirmed his distrust in defenders that he didn’t sign. Cahill’s belated debut against testing opponents badly backfired after Villas-Boas’s decision not to bed him in, while Luíz again struggled to cope with the threat of Javier Hernández.
Impressive though United’s comeback was, this was two points dropped, despite the obvious ambivalence. Chelsea have regressed, albeit not quite as spectacularly as Arsenal, and their looseness was ripe for the taking. Yet at 0-0 the visitors didn’t capitalise on some lackadaisical passing from their hosts’ backline and as soon as Sturridge found himself one-on-one with Evra, they paid the price. The 3-0 scoreline was a travesty, but as the Reds clawed back Chelsea’s lead, they came via penalties rather than breaching a dithering defensive rear-guard. Chelsea, save for some exciting forwards, are a fading force who United should be aspiring to remind of their hurdle , rather than title-challenging, status, but they were merciful and ponderous in the final third during the opening 45 minutes. The slender 2-1 win at the Emirates two weeks ago should have been a resounding victory, but the decision-making has invariably erratic yet it hadn’t nipped them in the bud until yesterday.
What can the Mata be?
Juan Mata is fast becoming the fulcrum of Villas-Boas’ Chelsea, but is running out of support to alleviate the burden on his shoulders. Fernando Torres got his groove on in fits and spurts and Daniel Sturridge was pivotal in the two own goals that beat David De Gea, however the former’s profligacy prolonged and Sturridge departed to counter Paul Scholes’ arrival. With the Blues’ Vainglorious Four absent, the mantle was passed to the Spaniard, a snip at £23.5m. Mata’s magnificent volley was all the more sumptuous for his decision to open the face of his boot and caress the ball, whilst simultaneously generating an unstoppable strike. His postage-stamp free-kick was another illustration of his tony technique, undone only by a genuinely great save from De Gea. Sturridge, Torres, Romeu and Romelu Lukaku will ideally forge to complement the growing reliance on their team mate in the future, but ideally they would already be sharing the responsibility around. Alas for Villas-Boas, they aren’t, so the uncertainty festers through even to Chelsea’s impressive attack.
Hernández continues to box clever
Outside of the area, there are many kinks to iron out of Javier Hernández’s game, but inside the box he is a potent predator. His movement for the equaliser was so clever that he made David Luíz look stupid, as he nodded in his fourth goal in seven games against Chelsea to confirm his reputation as the Pensioners’ scourge. How ironic that his impact was so fruitful when his first contribution was to be found offside again; the Mexican induced anxiety into the Blues’ backline via his movement and, most notably exhibited by his headed lay off for Rooney when neither Cahill nor Luíz fancied an aerial duel with someone smaller than them. Hernández should actually have started the game (something Ferguson admitted in his post-match interview) after a bright display against Stoke City midweek, when he wasn’t once offside and his first touch didn’t resemble a tennis ball bouncing against a wall. Danny Welbeck possesses the more complete package, if not the knack for major goals, despite his recent winner against Arsenal. Of Hernández’s eight goals this term, two have secured a point at Anfield and Stamford Bridge and he has notched winners in 1-0s at Goodison Park and the Liberty Stadium.
The bigger story about Webb is not his allegiance to Ferguson, but his inability to get big calls right since the World Cup final.
Again a weekend of football could not pass without racism-related connotations. Because Rio Ferdinand is the brother of Anton Ferdinand, who John Terry allegedly racially abused, he was booed by thousands of morons, much alike the majority of Anfield last week heckling Patrice Evra for being racially abused by Luis Suárez. Villas-Boas, much like Kenny Dalglish, feigned ignorance by stating that it was a ‘normal situation’. Perhaps clutching at the straw that Ferdinand is an ex-West Ham United player, that could not mask the fact that he is not regularly booed at Stamford Bridge and was informed that his brother is a ‘c**t’. It is depressing that a great game of football had to be sullied by tribal morons who cannot wait for a verdict to be reached, let alone that one degenerate deemed that bullet shells to be an appropriate delivery for the younger Ferdinand.
Nothing ever lasts for-Evra
Being humiliated twice by Daniel Sturridge is not a shameful sin, but as a 30-year-old left-back who is ostensibly one of the best in the world in his position, Patrice Evra should feel the shame. All three of Chelsea's goals came from Evra's vicinity and for 18 months he has produced a wave of poor performances for United and opponents have cottoned on. The sheer ease in which he was bypassed for Chelsea’s opener was as unsurprising as it was infuriating for his colleagues, who witnessed an all-too-familiar sight. Nevertheless it is certified that the Frenchman will be starting next week, and the week after next. Erroneously, some have deemed right-back to be a problem position for the Red Devils when the only problem has been the excellent Rafael da Silva’s fitness. Left-back meanwhile is contested by a player out of form two years this summer. Fabio da Silva is superior in the role his twin currently occupies, so with competition near enough non-existent, United must countenance a liability in Evra. Midfield remains the priority position to strengthen, but a left-back is also an essential requirement should the balance sheet allow for one to be signed.
Webb of what?
Howard Webb conspiracy theorists – usually basement-ridden-pepperoni-faced-young-adult-keyboard-warriors – bashed their buttons with fury again… after he failed to send Gary Cahill off. Oh. Did you forget about that? Webb has made mistakes that have favoured the United and mistakes that have handicapped them, but the bigger story about the Rotherham-born ex-plod is not his allegiance to Ferguson, but his inability to get big calls right since the World Cup final. Correctly, he penalised Sturridge for tripping Evra although his decision to penalise Branislav Ivanović for tripping Danny Welbeck seemed harsh. Similarly to Adam Johnson kicking Chris Baird at Eastlands the day before, the Mancunian had bought it, or if you’re not English, dived. The Cahill catastrophe was the most glaring error and Ferguson was also entitled to question chocolate teapot impressionist Darren Cann, purportedly a ‘referee’s assistant’ who took no action despite perfectly placed. Since that night in Johannesburg Webb’s performance level has deteriorated to such an alarming degree that human error is getting tired of taking the blame. Recently, he allowed himself to be conned by Leon Osman to reward Everton a penalty and a fortnight ago failed to red card Mario Balotelli and Joleon Lescott during the Manchester City-Tottenham Hotspur clash. That he admitted to seeing the latter’s forearm smash on Younes Kaboul was a candidly critical comment on his own ability, and Villas-Boas’s assertion that he was ‘compensating’ for his first-half snafu wasn’t entirely unfair. Officials will make blunders in the split-second they have to make a decision, but Webb may benefit from a break from the game. The caveat is that he remains the Premier League’s best referee, whilst tackling-challenged Martin Atkinson has somehow made the Fifa list of officials.
Both encounters between Chelsea and United this season could easily have ended 6-6. The three games between the two Manchester clubs in the Community Shield, league and FA Cup saw 17 goals shipped in at both ends, the City-Tottenham duo had 11 goals between them, the United-Arsenal clashes consisted of 13 goals, Spurs battered Liverpool 4-0 and United vanquished Spurs 3-0. It's been a mad tonic to witness such cavalier football after a fairly dismal 2010/11, yet it also highlights how the league has only gotten better because the teams have gotten worse. Chelsea arguably have a better squad than United but are struggling to finish fourth, City have unlimited funds but are top only by two points, Liverpool have been impotent, Arsenal are in decline and United really should be. English clubs' European golden era (seven finalists in seven finals - only two winners) may be over, but the excitement on the home front is prompting more profanities, more heart palpitations and more goonage for a long time. As supporters, we may die from it, but we'll die happy. Especially with there being so much wrong with 21st century football.
When Hernández drew level Ferguson opted to inexplicably replace Welbeck with the ineffectual Ji-Sung Park, in a move that seemed symptomatic of an ever-more curmudgeonly manager. Why make a negative change when the current XI are prospering and have just pegged Chelsea back? The Korean’s CV may list him as a ‘winger’, which suggests that he is an attacker, but he is the most ineffectual of his ilk. Living off of a penchant for scoring in big games has deluded Ferguson into thinking that he is a major threat when the majority of his United strikes have not required technical proficiency. If he came on to slot in at right-back to bump Antonio Valencia forward again then the logic was obvious, but instead the Ecuadorian remained restricted. On two occasions Park neglected to provide a decisive pass when an opportunity knocked, confirming that there really was no method in the madness.
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