Manchester United 2 – 0 Chelsea

Match reports

The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Once United had scored, with Carlos Tevez notching his first goal for the club, Chelsea enjoyed no more than a meaningless rally. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side remembered to keep ample numbers behind the ball and spirited breaks by the visitors petered out, with no genuine saves required of Edwin van der Sar. Those seeking to have their emotions stirred were best advised to keep their eyes on the referee.”

The Times, Martin Samuel: “Mike Dean had some big calls to make at Old Trafford yesterday. It really would have spoilt it had he got one right. He gave a penalty that was not; missed a penalty that was; sent off a player that did not deserve it; merely cautioned one that did. When Sir Alex Ferguson describes a red card to an opposition player as harsh, it would suggest an extreme miscarriage of justice. If the jury is out on the new Chelsea manager, Avram Grant, it is because the performance of the referee ruled this match a mistrial.”

The Independent, Sam Wallace: “Played one, lost one is the record of the new Chelsea manager although on the final whistle yesterday Abramovich leapt to his feet and applauded in the directors’ box rather than turning on his heel and walking out in a huff. A few minutes later he and his entourage set off, Sopranos-style, for the changing room presumably to reassure Grant that he was still in a job. Now Abramovich has the manager he wants, it is just the results that are a problem.”

Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “On the day that “Avram Who?” became “Avram Why?”, Chelsea lost a player, two goals and three points to compound the disaster of losing the inspirational Jose Mourinho. If they are to rebuild for the future, Chelsea must appoint a more substantial successor to Mourinho than Avram Grant, who possesses neither the leadership skills nor the coaching licence.”

Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: “A spirited Blues display, in the hardest of circumstances, had produced no luck and no points, leaving new manager Grant plenty to think about ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Hull.”

The highlights

Click here for extended high quality video highlights from Virgin Media.

The good

  1. The heart and courage shown by the players. It can’t have been easy for them, those who loved Jose and even those who were glad to see the back of him. The dressing room must be in turmoil and anyone who says otherwise is a bloody fool or a liar, so to come out and make a decent fist of the first half at least was admirable in the extreme.
  2. Petr Cech. The save from Wayne Rooney was utterly magnificent and the way he chased Michael Essien to berate him for some appalling defensive clearance work was reminiscent of a certain Peter Schmeichel for scariness. How he must be pining for Ricardo Carvalho to return from injury.
  3. Ashley Cole. This may have been the first time I recall seeing him back to, and maybe even beyond his Arsenal best. Defended like a tiger, ran the wing superbly and showed true passion.
  4. Joe Cole. Wayne who? His touch and trickery was somewhere close to the Joe Cole of the 2005/2006 title winning season. My problem with Jose was why he seemed to have gone off Joe this season, when his England appearances indicated full match fitness. He appears in “The bad” section as well for that tackle!
  5. Carlos Tevez. We should have bought him and that’s all I can say about another team’s player.

The bad

  1. Mike Dean. I’ve seen some shockers in my time. In fact Howard Webb’s performance in the Blackburn game was as poor as it gets, from a ref who has always struck me as being very sensible. He now looks like the best and most moderate ref in the world compared to the impostor overseeing yesterday’s game. The sending off of Jon Obi Mikel was shocking and ill-judged as was proven by the replays on the TV monitors. The 3 minutes of stoppage time to allow the corner and subsequent passage of play, despite indicating 2 minutes would be played was an execrable decision and the penalty was laughable. Even Sir Alex Ferguson thought the sending off and the penalty was harsh. And guess where Dean is from? The Wirral in Liverpool. So why am I not surprised?
  2. Joe Cole’s tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo. I know Ronaldo is a winking, cheating, diving scumbag and I know that sometimes you want to get one back for the team, but this was reckless and dangerous and Joe should have been sent off. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad he wasn’t, but he should have been. So that’s another piss-poor decision from Mike “just call me Ringo” Dean then.
  3. The performance. I praised the heart and spirit of the lads but the performance was pretty average at best and dismal at times, and the facts back this up. We did occasionally look brighter than in recent games but too often we made poor decisions and gave the ball away through unforced errors. It’s too early to tell of course, but the signs are not good. We had 1 shot on target to United’s 9, 3 shots off target to their 8 and 1 corner to their 10, yes count them… 10 corners. Even with 10 men that’s a miserable set of statistics. I suppose we could use that as testament to our defence that they only got 2 goals but that flatters the fact that they barely broke sweat in the second half due to being a goal up.
  4. The whole occasion (part 1). I watched it with a macabre fascination to see if the “car crash” Chelsea performance would happen, or if the boys would do it for the Special One. But it was flat and the sending off turned the game from a compelling contest into a dull, backs against the wall battle for survival against a misfiring team of superstars who didn’t seem to know whether to try and sweep us aside or let us hit our own self destruct button. In the end the latter came to fruition and no matter how much my heart ached I knew this would not be our day.
  5. The whole occasion (part 2). It felt like the eyes of the world were on us today. It felt like the first time you go out after a death in the family. People want to treat you as normal, but they don’t. Some will avoid you, some try too hard. Whatever, it just felt too soon and too uncomfortable.

Player ratings

  • Petr Cech: Some good saves today, marshalled the box well and nice to see some attitude. Magnificent save from Rooney after 2 minutes – 8/10.
  • Michael Essien: Don’t anyone try to convince me he isn’t distracted by the events of the week. His worst performance to date in a blue shirt – 5/10.
  • Tal Ben Haim: Quietly and efficiently did his job and can count himself hard done by for the penalty – 7/10.
  • Paolo Ferreira: An OK game but seemed lost when in their half of the pitch. Juliano Belletti would have been my choice based on what I’ve seen of him thus far.
  • John Terry: Looks a shadow of the man we had last season before injuries. He also looked like his mind was elsewhere. Hurry back, John, we need you more than ever – 6/10.
  • John Obi Mikel: Looked cool and assured and was desperately unlucky to be sent off. It seems referees are after him as he got 2 reds last year and his reputation is building unfairly because to my mind he isn’t a nasty player – 7/10.
  • Claude Makelele: Average to good. Still inclined to give away stupid free kicks in dangerous areas – 6/10.
  • Joe Cole: Looking almost back to his best but the rash streak is still so obviously there – 7.5/10.
  • Florent Malouda: Is not, and never will be as good as Arjen Robben. Frankly he looks a bit crap to me – 6/10.
  • Ashley Cole: The best game he’s had for us. Showed real passion and grit, and looks like he’s ready to start the raiding down the wings again – 7/10.
  • Andriy Shevchenko: An average game with flashes of his old brilliance but frankly no better today than he ever played under Jose – 7/10.
  • Salomon Kalou (sub): A rubber legged, rubber brained headless chicken of a performance. Rubbish in everything he did – 4/10.
  • Claudio Pizarro (sub): Didn’t get long enough to make an impression so looked decidedly average – 6/10.
  • Shaun Wright-Phillips (sub): Again, didn’t get very long. Huffed and puffed but produced little. Maybe it was the 5 minutes he had on the sideline waiting for the ball to go out so he could come on – 6/10.

Man of the Match

Petr Cech. It’s not good when the keeper is Man of the Match but it was a close run thing between him and Ashley Cole. However in the absence of Ashley making a world class save from a brilliant Rooney effort, then Cech has to take the honours.

Final thoughts

I’ve been a supporter for 37 years and I don’t remember a week as tough as this, Matthew Harding’s tragic death aside. When Gullitt and Vialli went I always expected Killer Ken Bates would pull the trigger on the managerial ejector chair, and I’m convinced he would sometimes do it for fun, and when Claudio Ranieri went I was relieved because I knew we had replaced him with an arrogant, egotistical, cocky and verbose winner, but this week surpasses any previous managerial departure for sheer incompetence and shock value.

Today the team looked like the time you went to a party a week after being dumped and ended up trying just too hard to look like you weren’t hurting and that everything was normal. The ex-partner wasn’t even there, both to your relief and sadness, but you’re desperate to show your friends and enemies that you’ve moved on through the shock / denial / acceptance / commitment grieving cycle. But you haven’t. You haven’t even left the shock phase. You might even meet another partner quickly, but the truth is it’s a rebound job and it’s doomed to failure, causing more pain and hurt. The only healer is time and that’s what the club will need, plenty of time. And that’s a luxury not often seen in the Premier League.

We are now 5 points behind a rampant, free scoring Arsenal, who have a game in hand and we look nowhere near the side of last season, let alone the previous title winning seasons. Didier Drogba, Carvalho and Lampard being out injured is obviously hurting us, but if the replacements can’t do it then they’re simply not good enough to play for us.

I think we have to accept that Avram Grant will be nicely diplomatic and media friendly, and will no doubt try his best, but the revelations about his lack of qualifications today are just another tub of salt tipped into an already open and very infected wound. Another liberal dose of humiliation piled on top of the humiliation already felt.

Whilst we are hurting as fans, the rest of football sees us as a laughing stock. Whereas before everybody hated us, but we didn’t care, it now feels like everyone is laughing at us and I do bloody well care about that. My faith and support is as strong and in a curious way it feels a bit like the old days of an under-achieving team topped by deadly autocratic ownership and media banana skins at every turn. I believe our season is probably already over and whilst I wish no ill on Roman Abramovich or Grant I believe that Roman will see the error of his ways, and that Grant will be unceremoniously moved away to make space for an experienced and credible coach who is qualified.

I will keep the Blue Flag flying high, but to borrow a lyric from the mighty Smokey Robinson, if you look closer it’s easy to see the tracks of my tears.

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