Analysis and Observations: United lack cutting edge in feisty affair
Homesickness claims many and brings about misery on one another. Stamford Bridge has, for years, seemed a place too distant from Old Trafford for Manchester United. Not since 2002 have the Red Devils won over there. While history isn’t quite on United’s side, the visitors arrived favourites – indeed, Chelsea had only picked up 20 points from their last 16 games beforehand.
Chelsea’s second attempt of domination of English football post-Mourinho has hardly materialised this season having just won the Double last season, and United had done well to put them on the back foot in the first half. Comfortable in possession, United’s 4-4-2 was simply too difficult for the Blues break down and Wayne Rooney’s excellent goal had made certain their dominance. The second half? Not quite as enjoyable, unfortunately.
Atkinson in spot of bother. Referee’s hardly have it easy these days. A demanding, sometimes degrading and demeaning, job is hardly helped by the fact that millions can be the judge on how effectively you carry out your work. To say he won Chelsea the game is absurd and perhaps narrow-minded, but his decision making did have some impact on the game. The big call was the penalty awarded to the home side with the score at 1-1. At first viewing, it looked harsh to punish Chris Smalling for fouling Yuri Zhirkov, but it was one of those 50/50 decisions that could go either way. It was soft, but the Russian certainly didn’t dive so Martin Atkinson would be satisfied he made the right call.
One thing for sure, Atkinson probably wouldn’t have to endure a game like this for the remainder of the season. Chelsea’s David Luiz, the Sideshow Bob-lookalike with aggression to match, could and should have been sent off. Having been booked already, the defender had a number of instances which might have earned him another card. Ancelotti wisely replaced him late in the second half. Nemanja Vidic’s red card at the end was conceived out of pure frustration. One thing is for certain; Atkinson was not to blame for United’s shortcomings. United should only point fingers at each other.
The positives? There are some. Fletcher’s deployment down the right flank looked to have worked, especially in the first half. While many will point out that his performances have regressed in this campaign, there’s no doubt that he’s sown some sort of improvement in a position which he played a lot more in his younger days. He was everywhere, not literally, but close. John O’Shea looked assured and confident – so just another day at the office for the Irishman. And then there was Wayne Rooney’s goal, a tidy low finish that had Petr Cech beaten. It was his first league goal from outside the area since 2008, on that occasion he had scored a cracker against Newcastle United.
It was a shame that United couldn’t replicate their first half performance in the second. Michael Carrick was immense for large parts of the game, while Paul Scholes put in a decent shift alongside him. But it all then faded away. After the interval, United looked jaded, a bit alien, and so the hosts took the initiative. In truth, United weren’t that bad. But then you could argue that they weren’t exactly good either. It was a result that would disappoint a few – but the title still remains in the hands of the team that would go on to push on for their 19th title in English football.
The report card. Controversial, as always, but the teacher has made his mind up: Edwin van der Sar C, Patrice Evra C, Chris Smalling C, Nemanja Vidic C, John O’Shea B-; Nani C, Paul Scholes B-, Michael Carrick B, Darren Fletcher B; Wayne Rooney B, Javier Hernandez F