Rafa Tactical Masterstroke? No, Hazard And Mikel Should Have Been On From Start

Any fan of Football Manager could have spotted that the high octane nature of Manchester United vs Chelsea required two young bucks - not the ageing and out of form Lampard.
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Any fan of Football Manager could have spotted that the high octane nature of Manchester United vs Chelsea required two young bucks - not the ageing and out of form Lampard.

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Following Manchester United’s crash out of the Champions League on Tuesday following Cuneyt Cakir’s controversial decision to send of Luis Nani, Chelsea had the unenviable task of facing them on their own turf in the quarter finals of the FA Cup. Very few teams do well at Old Trafford, so to face them when they’d been smarting from their perceived injustice, and us, under an Interim Manager who really doesn’t know what he’s doing, did not make for a pleasant Sunday viewing.

Chelsea fans knew we were in for a long afternoon when we saw Javier Hernandez on the Manchester United teamsheet; the pesky Mexican is fantastic at poaching goals, and no more so than when up against Chelsea. Indeed, we were muttering “Why always him” when four minutes had not passed before he evaded Gary Cahill to pick up Michael Carrick’s pass and head United into the lead. Things got bad from worse when Wayne Rooney, surely reeling from his mid-week delegation to the bench, made it 2-0 from a free-kick. This was a drubbing waiting to happen.

To Chelsea’s credit, we did create a handful of chances going into the second half, although it was only the double substitution of Hazard on for Moses and Mikel on for Lampard that the game changed. Football pundits were fawning over Benitez for those positive changes, but in truth, both men should have been in the team from the onset; Lampard and Ramires in defensive midfield never, ever works, and Benitez has had more than enough time to work that one out. Furthermore, since Lampard’s penalty miss at the Etihad two weeks ago, he’s just been very far off his best and this would have been a good game to rest him.

Less than spending seven minutes on the pitch, Eden Hazard latched on to pass from Mata and then, displaying the kind of excellent vision that Chelsea paid so handsomely for, hooked the ball past David De Gea to gleefully display why he is comfortably better than Shinji Kagawa. And then for the equaliser, two of Chelsea’s Brazilians stepped up, as Oscar provided the assist for Ramires to score. Even at 2-2 with 20 minutes to play, I was finding it hard to be calm; Ramires netted the equaliser in the eventful game at Stamford Bridge back in October (Clattenburg-gate, if you will), only for Chelsea to have two men sent off and suffer a Chicharito-shaped sucker punch very late on.

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Thankfully, and some would say miraculously, given that it was Alex Ferguson’s beloved Howard Webb overseeing the game, there were no such controversies in this match. David De Gea, for his part, pulled off a fantastic save with what looked like the top of his toenail, so infinitesimally did Mata’s shot graze his boot, late on in the game, to keep the scores at parity, meaning that Chelsea earned themselves a thoroughly deserved replay. With our fixture pile up, it’s the last thing we need, but we’re in the competition still, and I’ll take that.

And when I say “Chelsea earned”, I’m talking about the players, and not Benitez. He didn’t display any of this so called tactical genius that Abramovich deludedly seems to think he possesses by making on the Mikel and Hazard substitutions; any idiot with 20 minutes worth of Football Manager experience would have told you both had to be a shoo-in for such a high-tempo game. Frank Lampard is a Chelsea legend and my role model in every way (I even have the crooked posture), but tackle he most certainly can’t; this platform wasn’t for him. Once Mikel came on, Chelsea began playing like a team again, rather than a disjointed bunch of individuals.

Recently, I’ve started watching a HBO show called “Girls” that is mediocre at best. The lead actress, Lena Dunham, is also the show’s creator/writer/producer, and it hasn’t failed to escape my notice that she has a fair bit in common with Benitez. For a start, both are overweight. More pertinently, both are c**p at their jobs - Dunham, at acting/writing/producing/directing, and Benitez, at managing. And the final similarity between the two is that if you dare criticise either of them, you can expect a barrage of abuse from their minions. When Chelsea fans call out Benitez for making incorrect decisions, they’re accused of purposely derailing their team. Nonsense. We, like people who wish to watch proper TV shows and criticise Dunham for not providing it, are fully entitled to our opinions.

On a final note, while David Luiz was lucky to escape Old Trafford with merely a yellow card for his stream of fouling, the centre-back that did himself the most discredit was Rio Ferdinand. The camel-faced Englishman clearly elbowed Fernando Torres to the ground, before then aggressively dragging the Spaniard up. Torres and Ferdinand have a history of beef; April 2011 at Stamford Bridge, Torres was at his feistiest squaring up to Ferdinand. But that was a petty action from the former England player which exhibited a telling streak of his to act impulsively when he’s irked - sarcastically clapping in the referee’s face on Tuesday, as well as retweeting the now infamous “choc ice” tweet about Ashley Cole are just two other examples. It would not surprise me if Rio was using Torres as an outlet for his residual anger towards John Terry and Ashley Cole, and ergo, Chelsea in general.

Rio Ferdinand obviously feels aggrieved at how he was collateral damage for John Terry's racial abusing of Anton Ferdinand. This sense of injustice was mirrored by the pious (and frankly, boring) #RIO4ENGLAND broadsheet media, particularly when Gary Cahill got injured before Euro 2012 in a friendly and Roy Hodgson, in true troll form, obstinately refused to select Ferdinand, picking a 22-year-old Liverpool right-back at his expense as Cahill’s replacement. But had Ferdinand used his brain (a difficult task, I know, given that his Manchester United shirt number also exhibits his IQ), he would have realised that the only way back into the England set up would be by delivering accomplished performances in defence. And even then, it is at Hodgson’s discretion who he picks or doesn’t pick; he’s the manager, not Ferdinand. But with the “choc ice” tweet, Ferdinand burnt any lingering bridges between him and England; there’s no way back now. So Rio can keep using Torres as a punchbag to his heart’s content; it still won’t get him back in that England team.