Chelsea v Manchester United Match Preview – A Tale of Two Transitions

Team news

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho says new £21m signing Nemanja Matic will not start against Manchester United today.

Fellow midfielder Frank Lampard could return from a calf problem while Serbia defender Branislav Ivanovic remains sidelined with a niggly knee injury.

United boss David Moyes has ruled out strike duo Wayne Rooney (groin), who was publicly courted by the Blues in the summer, and Robin Van Persie (thigh) for the trip to Stamford Bridge.

Brazilian Rafael serves the last of his three-match suspension.

Match preview

As I read the comments posted on my recent review of our victory against Hull last weekend, I came across an interesting comment from the user “WorkingClassPost” which read “Sunday should be interesting; a tale of two transitions, kind of thing”. Hoping WorkingClassPost doesn’t mind, I’ve decided to include it in my match preview, as I feel it excellently reflects, sums up and describes today’s decisive encounter.

A tale of two transitions, with differing fortunes. Either Manchester United or Chelsea have won eight of the past nine Premier League campaigns, establishing themselves as powerhouses of English football, with both winning Champions League medals during the mentioned time period. It was always going to be a challenging period for Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure from the Red Devils, having done so much for so long, but a seventh place position in January was certainly not expected. However, I feel the fact that most spectators tipped either ourselves or Manchester City to claim the Premier League at the start of the season is a significant prototype of the expectation that United would have to overcome many adversities this season during their transitional period. It is impossible to re-do 26 years of work in one season.

We may sit third in the league, but we have also been experiencing a transitional period, quite different to the one the red side of Manchester have ongoing. With our old guard, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry out of contract in the summer, we have begun building a team for the future, not just as a quick-fix, as Mourinho himself made clear. And with talented youngsters such as Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku, Gael Kakuta and Ryan Bertrand out on loan, the future looks bright down the Stamford Bridge tunnel.

Regardless of United’s league position, we have other reasons to be confident going into the match. However hard it may be for United to swallow, the truth is none of their midfielders would get into our side. Adnan Januzaj is a rising star and is destined for great things, but you would still pick the in-form Eden Hazard over the 18 year-old starlet. The likes of Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick and Ashley Young are undeniably not on a par with Chelsea’s Ramires, Lampard and Oscar. Why, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you why. Since the summer of 2010, we have spent a staggering £229.9 million on midfield reinforcement. As a result, 26 of our league goals have come from our midfield players compared with United’s disappointing seven. Combined with their dodgy defence, uncertain midfield and the respective absences of Van Persie and Rooney, we should win this one.

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  1. limetreebower

    Very good result. it’s these games against the mid-table teams with nothing much to play for which we’ve been failing to win in recent seasons, so it’s good to see us disposing of them properly in recent weeks. We were outplayed for much of the game, admittedly, but that’s the thing about teams like Man U, Southampton etc: they’ve got nothing to lose really so they know they might as well come to our place and give it a go.

    Cahill and Azpilicueta outstanding, I thought.

  2. Ramone

    At the start of the second half – not period or stanza new age pundits please note – I recalled my old mate John who at every opportunity makes it his business to point out that “the third goal is the most important in any game of football”. And so it proved today.

    Having been sent out early for the second half, the United boys had just enough time to forget anything that an incandescent Moyes must have raged at them, and caved in to some schoolboy defending from a corner four minutes later. 3-0. Game over.

    It must be difficult for Moyes to fathom where he goes from here apart from to pray for his eyes to return to their sockets and for the return of his striking dynamic duo. Certainly his team looked better playing in the opponents half than their own, especially in the first 15 minutes where they looked a threat. But his central midfield and back four looked shaky every time his team gave up possession and conceded goals at times that killed any momentum or hope they may have built up.

    As for the mighty Chels. the headlines are eye catching. Whilst the speed of counter attacks were mesmerising. So much so that United were moved to foul anybody crossing the half way line until Young was booked. Hazard is a genius at outpacing and then running across his man. Oscar and Willian worked tirelessly. The latter with not inconsiderable pace thrown in. Crazy D was walking a fine line I felt after his booking but held well. And Ramires worked his proverbial socks off.

    And then there was Samuel Eto’o who at last looked like a player who could work the back line, score goals and hold the ball up with some vim, tempo and accuracy in his game.

    Our back 4 looked solid and a threat from set pieces.

    Dare I say we’re a title threat ? I guess we’ll know more after Monday February 3rd.

  3. PeteW

    I’d say we are comfortably through our ‘transition’ period – that was the last two and half seasons when we failed to make any impact on the league and had to content ourselves with a couple of cups instead. We got very lucky with that EC win in that time, which meant we never dropped out of the Champions League and were able to attract players like Oscar and Hazard at a difficult time.

    No, we are definitely through the other side, with a new look and style to the team, a new (sort of) manager who could potentially be here for a few years, and a strong young side that is really only lacking a striker to finish it off (but can arguably survive without one as long as Hazard/Oscar/Willian and sometimes Schurrle and Mata chip in with enough goals). We are title contenders, though I doubt we will have enough to overcome Man City this season.

    United, on the other hand, are thoroughly borked.

    Which raises an interesting question: what is Ferguson’s legacy? He’s left them with massive debts, a weak squad, players coming out of contract, a disgruntled Rooney (never a good thing) and a mid-table manager… So much for stability. Astonishing how everybody at United was blinded by the obvious – it was all being held together by Ferguson. Was it arrogance? Did they really believe that they, as a club, were special, or different? No, it was Fergie that was special. This is why British football clubs should never assume they are touchy-feely religions (I’m looking at you Liverpool), when really they are capitalist dictatorships. As soon as they act that way, they are stronger for it (Wenger, for all his bollocks, knows this).

    • Cunningplan

      I don’t know if it’s stupidity or arrogance on United’s part, but stability is the thing they don’t have. No doubting that Fergie was the man that made them tick, he’d be worth 10 points a season to any team. It’s the fact that David Gill stepped down at the same time, hindsight now dictates he would have been far better staying to help with any transition, that was so evident in Utd’s transfer debacle over the summer

      Moyes didn’t help the situation by sticking two fingers up to the majority of coaching team, surely that would have provided some stability to the squad. For all the Utd faithful claiming that he’ll be given time because they are “Manchester United” only need to look as you say Pete, at Liverpool.

      I think the Glazers may be far more prone to pulling the trigger on Moyes should they fall out of the top four. After all they have a huge debt to service, and any drop in income may be a bit too much for them to put up with.

      • GrocerJack

        I think Moyes will get time, there are precious few coaches, if any, who could eke more out of a very mediocre United squad.The board of United will be more than aware that Fergusons legacy was poor and based on history rather than potential. he knew it and I’m convinced he knew even his magical fairy dust wouldn’t help this season. An Ancelotti or Capello might have United 5th at best this season. A year out of the Champions league won’t hurt their finances that much, they sell more merchandise globally than anyone else and that won’t change for years if ever. Attracting players might be more troublesome with CL football missing, but United are more canny than the Liverpool hierarchies over the recent years, and players in general are mercenary bastards, and cash talks louder than any ‘project’ or ambition, else why would City be where they are now? Even up to now they have piss-poor CL record, but stick £250k under any players nose and they’ll twitch. pay them, and they will come. Cavani to PSG and Falcao to Monaco are further proof of that edict. Moyes therefore can’t be measured on half a season. I’d say if they haven’t got top 4 by the end of next season then ejector seats may be installed into the managers office……and wouldn’t that also mean a rather undignified ending to Scholes, Giggs and P Neville careers at United as well?

        And yes, he may not be a winner with a big club…but how the fuck do you get that experience unless you …..errr….get a job with big club? The logic doesn’t work as no one from a lower club would ever get such a job. I mean be honest Pellegrini hardly comes with a glittering prize laden CV does he, yet he seems to be providing City with stability and a level of calmness missing from last seasons debacle.

        Finally, I agree with Pete, I don’t think we have enough to overhaul a rampant City this year, no-one does, but I think 2nd is on the cards, with a home game to Arsenal, Spurs and Everton, and only 2 tricky away ties with City, where I think Mourinho will plan for a bore draw (as with Arsenal and United away) and Liverpool, where we’ve never had a great record. I haven’t checked, but don’t Arsenal have a very tough March schedule, which might be their tripping point.

        Finally, on a personal level i think this season is one the most exciting yet, with 5 or 6 genuine contenders for the top 4. I’m sure there’ll be more ups and downs for all teams, barring City, but would want Jose negotiating the last part of the season in front of any other coach in the world.

        • Der_Kaiser

          The ‘how do you get experience?’ point is all well and good, but while he might not be a winner at that level, it would certainly help if he’d been a winner of something other than one second division title (nearly 15 years ago) during his career.

          A canny eye for a bargain is a fine quality for a manager and making Everton the ‘best of the rest’ is an achievement in itself, but put aside any admiration for Moyes and ask why a man who has failed to register one solitary away win at one of the ‘big 4’ clubs in a decade of trying has been handed one of the biggest jobs is world football? Would he really have been anywhere near a list of possibles without Fergie’s endorsement?

          Next up – Alan Curbishley for the Real Madrid job. It’d be almost as daft.

          • GrocerJack

            Don’t agree, i’d equate what Moyes achieved with a poverty stricken Everton club, digging around the bargain basement for players and keeping everton a respected club, to be the equivalent of anything Pellegrini did or Wenger did prior to their current stints. I think you’re confusing an actual trophy no matter how worthless with the enormous achievement of keeping Everton in comparative safety, getting the odd cup run or Europa place with virtually nothing to spend. I liked Moyes before he went to United, and whilst I don’t feel sympathy with him, as I don’t feel much sympathy with anyone on several hundred thousand per year as I question any job being worth that (oops Arthur Scargill mode) I don’t think he’s being given a fair crack. I repeat my point, I doubt there’s a coach out there who given THAT squad would have them above 6th, maybe 5th at a push. Ferguson knew that, and I think he knew he couldn’t repeat last year because the key rivals were re-fitting and re-arming to ensure squad/fan/club disharmony wasn’t an issue this season (Arsenal excepted). An exceptional manager in his time for sure, but now looking a complete bastard for leaving such mediocrity in his wake and no sign of a new golden set of players from the academy. I’d be disappointed if they sacked him, but the board is powerful there, and unlike us I don’t think the Glazers have the unilateral power our benefactor has. These are interesting times indeed for United, but they’ll have a season out, and be back better next year. They will not be sitting in the wings like Liverpool. I’m also a bit hacked off with the rather glum ‘we didn’t play well’ attitude. We played well, we were disciplined and patient, and ruthless when required. this wasn’t a game for showboating or tiki taka bollocks and for me was as close to Mourinho CFC part 1 as i’ve seen. Mourinho, who I would wager knows more about football than us lot combined said he thought it was not between two teams several points apart, but was about the champions coming to town. Anyone who believes United came without believing they could win, or even wanting to win is frankly deluded. They played some good stuff..i know i was there, and plenty agreed with me that had they had a bit more firepower then things might have been different. To denigrate our performance based on them being nothing more than ‘mid-table’ is disrespectful to our players and disingenuous to a visiting side on a pretty good run in the league.

        • Cunningplan

          I don’t doubt he’ll get some time Tony, but I just feel the Glazers might not be so lenient with him if things go pear shaped. I’m with JD, Moyes won fuck all with Everton, I would have thought a cup of some sort, should have been the minimum requirement for a job at United.
          I just wonder were they would be if Jose was currently at the helm, a lot higher me thinks.

    • Der_Kaiser

      Highly enjoyable afternoon all round. Pleased for Eto’o as he’s had some stick from some quarters but he took the goals well (with a hint of luck, but you’ve got to buy a ticket and all that). JT and Cahill impressive too. Not a huge fan of the Luiz / Rami combo, but United did so little with the ball (bar a couple of tricky spells at either end of the game) that it didn’t really seem to make much difference. Makes the trip up to the Eithad in a couple of weeks very interesting – if anyone can set us up to get some kind of result up there, Jose can.

      Pleasing to hear him speaking so warmly about being back and his plans to stay over the last few days – ultimately all down to Roman as we know, but things seem to be a lot calmer this time round and there appears to be some kind of strategy for the medium to long term. Long may it continue.

      Mate of mine observed that United recruited Moyes on some bizarre set of values synonymous with Ferguson (obviously because he played a big part in the process), seemingly without noticing that the ‘Chosen One’ had precisely feck all experience as a manager at that level. As CP notes below, the fact that Gill and Ferguson left at the same time might well have been unavoidable, but in terms of succession planning it was a disaster.

      • PeteW

        Read an interesting comment somewhere that Fergie went for Moyes because he thought Moyes represented the things that made Fergie a winner: prudence, honesty, hard-work, endeavour, Scottishness – and didn’t recognise that actually the things that make him a winner were the ruthlessness, arrogance, single-mindedness, switchblade-viciousness, as embodied by Mourinho.

  4. WorkingClassPost

    Without wanting to sound churlish, and enjoyable as it was, there was still plenty of scope for improvement yesterday.

    3-1 should really have been 4-0 and it looks as though Jose is still re-learning the prem rule that too many defenders just encourages the opposition to attack, and Mikel for Oscar did exactly that, but Jose being Jose, he was able to provide a quickish remedy with Torres coming on to liven up our attack again.

    We may joke about putting three past a mid-table team, but that’s all that manu are right now (minus their main strikers), so keeping a clean sheet would’ve been a more acceptable result.

    It may have bluff and bluster, but they did give us a bit of a run around at times, and but for a fortuitous deflection, who knows how it would’ve gone?

    We put in some great shifts it’s true, but we didn’t necessarily play much better than them, it was just that our guys were better than their guys, and we scored when they didn’t.

    I’m not convinced that Jose really knows his best team yet, and perhaps that’s it:- There is no ‘best’ team. On any given day we just select the fittest, hungriest, most persuasive 11 out of 20 or so.

    • limetreebower

      It was never going to be a clean sheet once Hernandez came on. Doesn’t he always, always score against Chelsea?

      But point taken: really it was a pretty shaky performance. We lost midfield quite badly, to be honest: the difference between our inability to retain position when moving from back to front and their relatively straightforward movement through Carrick and then out to the wide men was very striking. To Moyes’s credit, he seems to have chosen the right strategy with the very aggressive press. Neither Crazy David nor Ramires ever looked comfortable in possession when closed down quickly, and Hazard was marked very tightly.

      However, I’m not sure I agree about the best team thing. He’s clearly settled on a first choice attacking three (Hazard-Oscar-Willian), and Ramires always plays, so it’s just a question of who’s the other defensive midfielder and who’s the front man. (The back four more or less picks itself at the moment — much as I admire Crazy David, Cahill and JT are in such excellent form they’re undroppable, and ditto Azpilicueta).

      Let’s hope Mata gets a start on Sunday, with a midweek game coming up afterwards. I bet we’ll see Matic too.

      • WorkingClassPost

        With Mata and Torres sat on the bench together, it’s hard not to see them as something of an item, and could this be a bit of Mourinho Magic at at work? Maybe they’ll empathise with each other and take that bond onto the pitch if given the chance. They’ve certainly clicked in the past, so who knows.

        • Ahmed Osoble

          Can’t see it happening. Jose is not the Pellegrini-type to go full-out attack, be aesthetically impressive and risk a clean sheet. Jose is not a fan of Mata and he could be off to United

    • Blue_MikeL

      “Jose is still re-learning the prem rule that too many defenders just encourages the opposition to attack” so much agree on that. That was exactly what I said to my mate when Jose made this change.

      • PeteW

        I wasn’t so bothered yesterday about this change (and think it was more mentality with the players, who had settled into coasting mode), but when he took off Torres and played with nobody up front for ten minutes against Arsenal it very nearly went badly wrong.

        We weren’t great yesterday but that’s really the point – we didn’t need to be. They were never going to be able to maintain that early pace and pressure, even if they had scored – and Mourinho sides nearly always get better as the game goes on (if they need to, that is).

        Disagree on the not knowing strongest side thing, think JM knows exactly what his best XI is for the biggest games.

        • WorkingClassPost

          Maybe it’s just my wishful thinking that he’s gonna bring a bit more sparkle into the side but we may find out more when fixtures compress and he starts rotating. Will he let the others stake their claims on a regular first team place?

        • Blue_MikeL

          Their pressure from the beginning was invited by Chelsea (Jose). Moyes has picked up fast players in order to play on counter and run behind the defenders. jose started to play closer to the goal, so would have no place to run. First ten minutes United was sitting on Chelsea defensive line and got careless.

      • WorkingClassPost

        It’s interesting that this is starting to happen elsewhere too. I’ve been watching Italian footie and lately some big leads have been overturned when teams start to sit back and defend, whereas just a few seasons ago both sides would’ve just settled down to play out the last half hour and let the result stand.

        • Blue_MikeL

          I really hated Benitez for this and have been ranting on this blog more than once about it. You take your striker off that means you are inviting to strike.

  5. Ian

    A good review and as usual sensible comments on here. I love PeteW on the Ferguson legacy and the true nature of British football clubs. Yes we could have won bigger or with more style but I wonder whether our expectations are rocketing a bit too high, too soon. If I’m at a home game like Sunday’s where we’re being pushed back and outpassed in the first period I remain unbothered while it stays goaless because I trust that what’s happening either fits with the manager’s plan or that he’ll do something to change it. And my default after 50-odd years is expect-the-worse-pessimism, so it’s an indication of how good it is to have a bit of order and organisation restored. We all wanted him back – or at least could see he was by far the best option – and I’m weekly gobsmacked by the people round me shouting for us to get forward or lump the ball upfield, as if the game now is like the one they used to play in the school playground and Mourinho has undergone some miraculous conversion. On Sunday we could have gone behind of course and everything would have been different, and they missed Rooney/Van Persie badly. However tactically it’s played and however meticulous the planning and organisation, football remains beautifully unpredictable and governed by chance factors outside anyone’s control – we know this better than any club after Moscow, Ovrebo, Barcelona and Munich. I’m just pleased to see us looking a bit organised and savvy for the first time in a couple of years.

    • GrocerJack

      Wow, Agree 100% with every word. I’ve been taken aback by the negativity i’ve seen about ‘our performance’. As i said below, this was as close to a Mourinho CFC v1 game I’ve seen since his return, and I loved it. It was disciplined, patient, unruffled when under pressure and ruthless when required. I couldn’t ask for more.

      • WorkingClassPost

        Not sure that it’s negativity, but rather reality settling back in.

        3-1 against manu is not the cause for celebration that it has been in previous seasons and although we did enough to win, I can’t help feeling there will be tougher tests to come from teams even lower in the league than united’s mid-table perch.

  6. WorkingClassPost

    On the Fergy / Moyes topic…

    Sunday showed that his side aren’t any worse than they were before, what’s changed is that Moyes can’t intimidate and bully officials the way that Sir Ferg could.

    I’ve not seen much of them this term, but I have witnessed at least a couple of rash tackles against them, which would’ve been nailed on penalties in previous seasons.

    Apart from those dropped points, the team now know that they’ve gotta play by the same rules as everyone else: some decisions you get, and some you don’t, and it’s that, I think, that has taken away some of the dogged belief they had; that whatever was needed, be it a dodgy penalty or and extra xxx minutes, they would get a result, but not anymore. Now they have to play for it, like everyone else.

    Welcome to the real world Mr. Moyes & co.

  7. Ankan

    Good points …..

    What I have seen in the past one month is …..

    1) Chelsea is still playing a lot like they were playing earlier…but our Back 4 are really putting hard work, as well as they are helped by the midfielders too…

    2) Hazard …is playing well and generally give us a Manu Penalty like break from nowhere.

    3) Strikers are still the same ….

    What I feel as most f the fans feels is reinforcement in striking position and in back positions…and for Mata case…if anything happens to our midfielders (first 3 choices) then again we will be feeling the pinch as Mata will not be there for the fall back…

  8. Day Tripper

    I am troubled by this business of selling Juan Mata. No one will replace Franco Zola in my affections but Mata was as close to it as it is likely to come over the last couple of years. Why can he not be accommodated in this current team? It is said he doesn’t perform his defensive duties assiduously enough. But would you want an exceptionally creative player always to be tired when he receives the ball (because he’s worn himself out tracking an opposing player)? It has also been said that he dwells too long on the ball during ‘transitions’. Well maybe that is because he is waiting for a team-mate to make a decent run rather than just moving the ball on as quickly as possible whether space has been created or not.

    There is a wider issue than just whether or not Mata is undervalued by Mourinho. Abramovic was always said to want to win with style. Is that no longer the case? On Sunday we won, and is others have pointed out we won in a very Mourinho-esque style: not playing particularly well but out-running & out-competing the opposition; closing them down efficiently and pinching the goals at the other end. Is this what we are now aspiring to? And let it not be forgotten that MU did not have their only 2 proven world-class performers on the pitch on Sunday and things may well have been different if those 2 had been playing when they were dominating play in the first half. I am not reassured by this idea that we won playing badly and that that is the hallmark of a great team. I wonder whether the style of play being imposed will always prevent us playing with the flair and fluidity we see from Man City and which we ourselves produced in Ancelotti’s first season

    • WorkingClassPost

      I’m torn between thinking it’s bad to let him go (especially to one of our major rivals) and being glad that at least it appears to be getting sorted out. It wasn’t pleasant seeing a young player with so much talent sitting it out on the bench in obvious discomfort with the wrong type of media spotlight.

      If he really does go, then let’s hope it’s not one of those Eric Cantona moments that haunts us for the next few seasons. I can’t see us suffering the way that Leeds did, but it could propel united back into contention for trophies – Whatever you think of Moyes, Mata, Rooney and VP is quite a lineup, when all’s said and done.

    • GrocerJack

      I don’t think we are playing ‘badly’, just with more patience, discipline and applied ruthlessness. The games over Xmas were royally entertaining, but I don’t want tiki taka, tippy tappy bollocks football with shit results. Our league form since carlo has been rank bad when you see out finishing positions and gap to the top. What we’re getting is good football, interspersed with periods of control and at times perfunctory football. Long may it continue as long as we’re properly contending.

      • Cunningplan

        Aye, can’t argue with that, I’m in total agreement.
        Besides, Arsenal are being lauded at the moment for grit, and winning ugly against the bullying and so called “lesser teams” that they used to struggle against.

      • Day Tripper

        I also don’t like ‘tippy tappy’ football but a bit of creativity & expansiveness never goes amiss. I happen to think that the manner of a performance is just as important as its outcome. Over Xmas the Liverpool game was very exciting but I did not enjoy the Arsenal game, which I thought was dull, and wish we’d had tried to go for the victory towards the end rather than shutting up shop with the pragmatic intention of denying a direct rival the 3 points. Had we lost we would now be 5 points behind them, had we won we would be top. It depends on your viewpoint whether that was a risk worth taking

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