One word for Jose Mourinho and Chelsea: Respect.
Mourinho has his faults and so do Terry and co, but when it comes to the Premiership this team has turned domination into an art form. The 12-point lead over Liverpool and Manchester United is validation of their efforts because Chelsea have looked much more vulnerable this season, being knocked out of three cup competitions.
It was a match that highlighted the seasons of both teams in fine detail. Chelsea’s three goals showcased their talents and United defensive howlers showcased their fall from the sky, but the scoreline did not tell the whole story. Several times this season Chelsea have looked vulnerable, although of late only Liverpool and Barcelona (and Boro, with that 3-0 win) can say that they have any sort of valid claim to holding their own against the Blues. Most of the time, like today, they defended in packs and took their chances really well — a hallmark of Jose Mourinho’s management skills.
United, on the other hand, looked beaten before the match. The draw with Sunderland had taken the sting out of our supposed title chase, and with Nistelrooy and Brown being confined to the bench there was little doubt at the start that Ferguson was desperately short of ideas — the man has won so much for United and could very well do it again, but we’ve said that for the last three years and he needs to deliver now, not far off into the future.
Showered and dressed and coming out of my enclave for the second time in this week, I was expecting a lot more than an injury and three moments of atrocious defending from the old guard. But the very same people on whom Ferguson has built his foundation for defense in the last few seasons (Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand) let the team down badly, while Silvestre did everything in his power to make sure that he would be sold come the summer transfer period.
Wes Brown must have been cursing his luck for not having started — even at left back, the man is better going down the flanks and drives in more accurate crosses than Silvestre, who was content to close his eyes and punt floaters in the general direction of Chelsea’s goal-area.
Then again, It’s easy to blame the loss on poor defending, but the truth is that Chelsea played far too well for United to do anything. A slightly better defending performance would have made this match very, very interesting, but you cannot rue missed opportunities forever. We lost, we played really badly, let’s stop whining and figure out how to get out of this mess.
And if anyone’s complaining about Mr. Nistelrooy being unhappy at Old Trafford (as people have been speculating for the last month and would have yesterday, based on his late introduction and largely disheartened performance), could it be that the man is getting tired of empty promises coming from the manager about winning the Premiership? Nistelrooy is at his best when Manchester United are in their pomp, and for the last two seasons they’ve looked a shadow side. This season, despite being second in the top scoring charts (and having a higher “goals per match” ratio than Henry, the guy on top of the charts), he has looked lost and distant most of the time.
Benching Nistelrooy would not solve the problems. Finding two midfielders who can plug the huge holes in the heart of United’s formation would. Getting back Heinze would. Finding a right-back who is more physical and imposing than Gary Neville would. Allowing Rooney to play either as a full striker or as an attacking midfielder (but not on the left or in the middle doing the job of two men) would.
Unfortunately for Rooney, he was stretchered off and it was later confirmed from the United camp that he had broken the fourth metatarsal in his right foot. The docs have said he’s out for six weeks, and the World Cup starts at June 10th. It’s going to be an interesting lead-up — four years ago it was Beckham and Gerrard, this time it’s Rooney and Owen.
You know it’s not your day when two other news events (Chelsea’s back-to-back titles (and Mourinho’s 4 consecutive league titles) and Rooney’s injury) overshadow the reality of the day — that Manchester United are scared of Chelsea.
Yes, you heard me right. Chelsea are to Manchester United what United have been to Arsenal for the last four or five years. You could argue that it’s just Mourinho, but Chelsea have held their own against United for several years now, including the time when United was winning three league titles in a row.
You could argue that Chelsea do that to anyone, but with United it’s different. O’Shea talked about being hated, but right now being competent enough is more important. The toughest side in the Premiership was reduced to mock shambles yesterday and unless several big changes are made next year (both tactical and in personnel), we’re going to have to accept being second-best. Especially when Joe Cole and Ferriera were able to get through the United defense so easily.
Chelsea’s defending underlined their success — the Blues defended each United attack like a pack of dogs, holding the line and staying behind the ball, often flooding their own box with 6 or more blue shirts. Contrast that with the three goals United shipped — no one marking the Chelsea players, and the defenders being absolute pushovers. Where Cole, Lampard, Essien and Makele were all going back to help the back four, United’s midfield (with the exception of O’Shea) was no where to found when the Blues came knocking. It’s down to simple maths – 8 bodies defending a goal will do better than 5.
Congratulations Chelsea, you deserved the title.
Sir Alex Ferguson — stop making empty promises and please change things around, or get the hell out of Old Trafford. And if he goes, can we please have Beckham back? United needs a crosser, a battler and a captain, and we got none of those three at the moment.
Match Report (Guardian Unlimited Fotball)