Last night, Chelsea beat Manchester United 2-1 in a match that featured two great goals and two / three very debatable decisions by the referee. Having said that, it’s easy to jump on either of the two bandwagons this morning – United fans screaming ‘bloody murder’ and Chelsea fans & anti-United fans seeing it as a ‘deserved comeuppance’ – but the truth lies somewhere in between, and it’s worth analysing the whole game in context.
I missed the game last night, but thanks to the wonderful SoccerClips, was able to watch the extended Chelsea v Man Utd highlights (video embedded below) before writing this article.
I have 11 talking points from the Chelsea v Manchester United game, have a read, check out the game highlights if you haven’t seen the game and share your views at the end!
1. Forget the past
It’s worth mentioning at the outset that decisions made by the referee / actions of players outside of the game in question shouldn’t have any relevance to the decisions made in this game. Whether Rooney should have been banned or not is a separate debate, once the match starts, what Luiz did to Rooney / Rooney’s goal has far more relevance than the FA’s decision. Similarly, any decisions that Atkinson made in the last Chelsea-United game, or any decisions that have gone for / against United / Chelsea in the past, have no relevance here. Despite what we sometimes like to believe, things don’t ‘even’ out over the course of the season. A bad decision is a bad decision is a bad decision. End of.
If you still want to discuss whether United have their way in the league, check out ROM’s article on the subject.
2. Home teams / Big teams / Big players get away with more
There’s marginal preference given to home teams / big teams / big players (on that last note, I read an excellent article on the subject a few days ago discussing Rooney’s case that also referenced similar ‘let-offs’ for the likes of Gerrard and other major Premier League stars, apologies for not remembering the link), unfortunately it’s part of the game. So yes, referees get it wrong sometimes. So do players, and Malouda’s miss at the start of the game was criminal. Again, that shouldn’t justify harassing referees or pushing mistakes under the carpet just because they are big players.
Still, it has no relevance on whether a decision is right or wrong.
3. Chelsea and Manchester United have obvious, exploitable weaknesses
One moment in the start of the first half perfectly encapsulated the problems faced by both teams. Malouda, at the edge of the box, received the ball from wide right and had a free shot could only manage a meek one straight at Van der Sar. Key players are out of form for Chelsea, whether it’s changing tactics, injuries, the weather, the World Cup, whatever. They’re not going to win the league title with this level of performances, although they might end up 3rd.
And in the build up to that move, Paul Scholes was the man tracking back and was in excellent position to intercept the pass to Malouda. Of course, the man doesn’t have the pace or mobility to make it count, so he continued his gentle saunter into the penalty area and could only look to his right as Malouda took his shot. Manchester United haven’t had a good midfield since, well, since 2003/2004. Carrick in 2006/2007 gave them a boost, and Ronaldo / Rooney took them over the finishing line in 07/08 and 08/09. Arguably, Fergie looked at his squad in January and decided to wait till June to splash the big cash needed to fix the midfield, but if that area is not fixed, they’ll keep throwing points away.
4. Rooney’s goal doesn’t mean he’s back on form
Don’t get me wrong – it was a well-taken goal, brilliantly executed but 9 times out of 10 that goes wide or hits a player, and we’re screaming at the bald monkey for being, well, a bald monkey. Chelsea players had dropped off anticipating another Rooney run / through-ball / pass, so he had a little bit of space, and boy, did he make it count. Excellent goal, very timely considering the state of the game and obviously valuable given the season he’s had, but not a great shot to take.
Then again, football’s like that, plenty of great goals have scored like that. And before you hail this as Rooney’s second coming, remember the free header he got in the penalty area that bobbed off his shoulder? Not really hitting his straps yet.
5. David Luiz has a wicked right foot
He used to score a belter, and might have put it to good use kicking United players too! The commentary team spoke about Evra not closing down on Luiz fast enough but that’s taking away from Luiz’s good positioning and quality finish. United could have done better, but like Chelsea’s defence on Rooney’s shot, they simply didn’t expect him to do that.
6. What’s Gary Neville doing in the stands?
Good on Gary to take his place amongst the fans, at least he’s not gone the Sky route yet. The only meaningful contribution from Nev was his reaction to a Rooney miss, described so well by Paul Hayward of the Guardian:
Rooney, generally a team player, drew a yelp of annoyance from Gary Neville, in the stands, when Nani slipped the ball to him on Chelsea’s right and Rooney advanced on goal in an arc but tried a shot from an acute angle rather than cutting it back for Hernández, who had pulled off his defender into space. Territorial selfishness by the older player.
7. David Luiz deserved three yellow cards
The first one on Hernandez – deliberate off-the-ball shoulder charge. The second one on Rooney which got him his yellow – again very deliberate, when he couldn’t get to the ball. The third one, again a stonewall yellow card, a very cynical challenge made after Rooney had started moving in a different direction to the ball.
When Luiz got his first yellow, the ref clearly indicated that it was after persistent fouling, refering to the previous incident with Hernandez. On the third foul though, why didn’t he give a second yellow? Was it because he was already on a yellow card AND Rooney wasn’t in a goal-threatening position? If that’s the reasoning (and we’d love to have referees come out after games and explain decisions, even if it’s through a report posted on the FA’s website the next morning), then it’s a grey area where referees need to be more consistent and clamp down. Because Vidic’s second yellow was for a foul no worse than Luiz’s dismissal, with the difference being that Vidic committed the foul near the penalty box.
But regardless of the reasoning, and regardless of how Chelsea / United players have been treated in the past, the third foul merited a yellow card. In Luiz’s case it would have been his second, so yes, he should’ve been sent off.
8. Poor penalty decision
Right before Zhirkov tumbled over, there was a tussle between O’Shea and Lampard with O’Shea clearly giving Lampard a slight shove, before Lampard got the bal away to Zhirkov before falling down. To be fair, you see that kind of push in penalty areas all the time, whether that in itself constitutes a penalty or not is up to the FA (and probably worth asking Mr. Ian Blanchard). The second clash, where Zhirkov falls over Smalling, is a mix of inexperience from Smalling and diving from Zhirkov, and clearly not a penalty (O’Shea shove on Lampard was more intentional and worse).
Again, a case requiring the referee to explain what he saw that constituted a penalty, because it smacks of inconsistency by the refereeing. If you’re ‘letting the game flow’ by holding back on the cards, this was the softest of penalties that could have been given. It’s as bad as if United had got a penalty from the ball hitting Terry’s arm earlier in the game.
9. VDS v Lampard
Van der Sar was quite good during this game, including an excellent save from a Lampard free kick where he saved twice.
But the penalty was most interesting. As Lampard lined up the spot-kick, a Sky graphic showed the five previous penalties taken by Lampard, including two misses. Three successful ones (and one missed pen) were all towards the left side (right side for the goalkeeper). VDS would have done his homework and jumped in the right direction (in the air, as Lamps succesful pens had been in the air), but Lampard pulled the penalty back towards the center and kept it high, meaning that VDS had no chance to save it despite moving in the right direction.
It was a debatable penalty decision, and just one of hundreds of penalties the two players have taken / faced, but still interesting to see the different variables going into each penalty kick.
10. Another late goal
If you’re a betting man, bet on Man Utd v Chelsea having another late goal (i.e. after the 70th minute). In most of their recent Premier League clashes, Chelsea-United games have always featured a goal after the 70th minute. Sporting Index (spread betting) would give you good odds on that.
11. Fergie wrong to rant, but right about decisions
Ferguson is doing football or respect for referees no favours after his rant about Atkinson last night, although the points he raised about decisions in this game as well as decisions in the previous Chelsea-United Premier League game are perfectly valid. Managers and commentators slanging off referees only encourages fans to do the same, which is unfair given how difficult their job is. Personally, all I’d ask is for referees to be more consistent, to explain decisions, to be ably supported by video refereeing / goal-line technology, to have time-keeping taken out of their hands (a very valid point also raised by Ferguson a while back), and simply, be protected from managers / commentators when misfiring strikers / under-performing players get less than 1/10th of the stick the refs get, for making far more mistakes!
Are Manchester United out of the title race?
Arsenal would have celebrated Chelsea’s win, and Liverpool would have cheered Vidic’s red card, but there’s still a long way to go, and Arsenal need to worry about winning their own games until their match against United at the Emirates comes up. Injuries to key players could lead Arsenal to losing points as well, so it’s not all done and dusted.