The newspaper reports
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “If there was one consolation for Andre Villas-Boas yesterday it was that, unlike many young managers’ first defeat at Old Trafford, he need not remember it as a humiliating experience. Eventually, he might even see it the way the rest of us did: as one of those football matches with the drama and unpredictability to make you shake your head in disbelief. In terms of its ebb and flow, it did not feel like a 3-1 win for Manchester United, but then it did not feel like any game in recent memory. There were two offside goals and one miss from Fernando Torres that defied explanation, although Wayne Rooney’s shanked penalty was not too far behind. There was the brilliant and there was the sheer erratic. It was football-eh-bloody-hell and it is only halfway through September.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “This was an extraordinary game, chaos and class writ large. This was a match that had everything: spectacular strikes, horrendous misses and relentless scrutiny of the beauty and blemishes of a star’s technique. One moment Wayne Rooney was tapping home, the next he was slipping up. One moment Fernando Torres was finishing like Romario, the next like Ronnie Rosenthal. Great game, crazy game.”
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “The two most powerful teams in the land in recent years combined to put on an enthralling spectacle of frailty. Chelsea, in view of the result, might look second rate. They were indeed inferior but Manchester United’s lead would have been trimmed had Fernando Torres not declined to take his second goal of the afternoon. Having carried a Ramires pass away from the Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea he shot wide in the 83rd minute.”
The Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle, Dan Levene: “In a pulsating and incident-packed game, Chelsea all but dominated United – but were crushed by their own defensive frailties.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season is over after an afternoon of frustration at Old Trafford. Both sides could have had a hatful of goals following an entertaining game littered with errors at either end, but it was the hosts who made the better of their chances to go clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.”
Some preliminary ramblings
With the Premiership title race apparently already a Manchester only affair, at least Old Trafford’s wise old sage had the decency to mention that Chelsea would be there or thereabouts come the day of reckoning in the build-up to today’s Super Sunday big ticket.
The Sky build-up included an interstitial (that’s what the TV types call them, you know) featuring impressive street magician chappie, Dynamo. A sort of Paul Daniels for the ‘Skins’ generation, if you will. There was some impressive mastery of a pack of cards, which, one felt, was unlikely to be a precursor to any game at Old Trafford with Phil ‘Look, I’m just big-boned’ Dowd in charge.
The overall feeling amongst the blue faithful this week has generally been along the lines of “Hmm, bit too early for us” and I can’t say I disagree. United have had an uncanny knack of sticking away every shot on target thus far this season, while we have been pretty much the polar opposite.
The grey suited gentlemen of Sky – do they all have the same tailor? – lauded young Mr. Villas-Boas for his attacking line-up which included a front three of Torres, Sturridge and Mata. Gary Neville, veteran of a few of these clashes, suggested a toe-to-toe, festival of attacking football was on the cards; the pessimist in me felt that on current form, this probably wasn’t what the mighty Chelsea needed right now.
Still, hope springs eternal and all that – our record up there bar last season is as good as it gets in the Premiership era…
Entertaining fare for the neutral, as the old cliché goes. But for us of the blue persuasion, I suspect many adopted the old-fashioned Dr. Who “behind the sofa” standpoint, so horrendous was some of our defending and finishing.
I made the following ‘real time’ observations on proceedings which I shall share with you here, whether you like it or not:
3 minutes: De Gea saves cross/shot from Meireles, who is an awfully long way forward for a man marking Wayne Rooney.
7 minutes: Smalling, 1-0. Poor defending – Sturridge and Frank look on as the one-time amateur makes some very seasoned professionals look like, well, amateurs. Hint of offside, but no excuses for that.
15 minutes: We’re 5 to 1 ahead on shots on goal and 1-0 down. Draw from that what you will. Frank limping a little after coming together with Smalling.
19 minutes: Ashley Cole is spoken to by Phil Dowd. Darren Fletcher has come over to help out, which is nice of him. Good to see he’s not forgotten his role in officiating matches.
20 minutes: Cries of handball against Frank from sixty thousand muppets. Dowd, looking directly at the incident from about six yards, says no.
25 minutes: AAAAAAAAAAAAARGH! Ramires manages to find De Gea in a relatively uncrowded net after good work from Mata. Should have been the equaliser, and I don’t mean Edward Woodward.
30 minutes: Torres attempts overhead kick. I shall say no more.
Ooh, City have blown a two goal lead at Fulham. You can have all the forwards you like…
37 minutes: Another hoary old football cliché is all I can offer here – you just don’t stop those. Nani from about 20 odd yards, and it’s two-nil. Cech hardly moved – an absolute rocket, not helped by our retreating, tackle-shy defence. I think that’s probably it.
44 minutes: No, actually, that’s it. Jones’s run from the back tenacity in the box ends in a spot of pinball, with Terry’s clearance bouncing off Nani to Rooney, who is frankly lonelier than Wordsworth’s bloody cloud on the other side of our box to tap the third in. Not good. I am retrospectively withdrawing my smug laughter at Arsenal’s recent misfortune up here.
Mercifully, Fatty Dowd wheezes a puff of air into his whistle and that’s half time.
The punditii (I’m inventing a new plural for the sheer hell of it) suggested that AVB might be shaking his head and wondering how his side were three-nil down at half time. I wasn’t – shite defending played a significant part in all three goals and the finishing at the other end wasn’t much better. Moan about offside decisions all you like – don’t leave players in acres of space eight yards from your goal, play to the whistle and trying to stick a tackle in and you might be onto something.
The second half commences, with Anelka coming on for the presumably injured Frank (who still isn’t looking quite the full ticket for me). Formation looks sort of 4-2-4 with Ramires and Meireles holding, but I’m not 100% sure.
45 minutes and a couple of Nandoseconds (see what I did there?): GOAL! 3-1 Torres makes a terrific run to collect Anelka’s superb little sort-of-reverse pass and dinks the ball over De Gea like a man who doesn’t have feet of clay and the touch of a rapist. Game (possibly) on.
53 minutes: After a decent spell of passing with Mata and Torres looking dangerous, United break after a slightly wasted corner and Nani goes down under Bosingwa’s (perfectly legitimate) looking challenge. Penalty…
Which Rooney misses, JT in Moscow style – on his arse, turf uprooted, still 3-1. JT booked for verbals at Dowd, I think. Dramarama all round.
61 minutes: Smalling and Anderson off, Valencia and Carrick on.
God, our defensive line is frighteningly high – need to be very careful.
67 minutes: Lukaku on for Sturridge. He is a monster of a man – Sky show him standing next to Evra – it’s like Arnie and DeVito in ‘Twins’.
Lots of CFC pressure – maybe three corners in a row (sorry, daughter now on lap, concentration lacking)? Torres really grafting today, most impressive – finally seems to be getting what the blue shirt is all about.
70 minutes: Torres dinking and dancing through the United defence, first shot saved, second blasted over. Looking good…
72 minutes: Rooney hits the post, Hernandez injured after his follow-up is blocked by Cole. Goes off with Berbatov taking his place. Mikel comes on for Meireles.
80 minutes: End to end stuff – plenty of Fergie time after Hernandez’s knock too.
83 minutes: Oh. Dear. Fucking. Lord. Torres rounds De Gea, goal gaping and… misses. From about four yards. Poor sod, doesn’t deserve that after the shift he’s put in today.
Ronnie Rosenthal’s ‘phone is now ringing quite a lot, you would imagine.
Thereafter, I am charged with reading an Angelina Ballerina book to dear daughter, but the game largely seems to fizzle out bar a great sliding block from Ashley, who almost Phil Babbs himself on the post. Ouch.
And that’s that. Eighteen straight home wins for United, a new record. Cracking game, which could have had another half a dozen goals if those concerned had turned up in their shooting boots.
The player ratings
Three is the magic number, said De La Soul, Whodini mused upon the wonders of five minutes of funk and the late, great Douglas Adams told us it was forty-two. Frankly, I could sit here generating random numbers all night, but if I were able to do so with any meaning or success, I’d have won the lottery by now.
The Man of the Match
Tricky one. Mostly good performances from our boys, but it probably has to go to Torres for nicking a great consolation and looking like he understands what is expected of him here. Just hope the miss hasn’t shot his confidence to shit for another ten games.
A result not entirely unexpected, if we’re honest. The suggestion that this game came too soon is partly correct, but our defensive and shooting related issues need addressing by AVB and his team. We play a high line away from home, which is most likely to be exposed on the two visits we make to Manchester, but there looks to be enough going forward to trouble any team in this league. Frank’s removal changed things for better and worse; we looked a little quicker in possession and had the ball for good periods on occasion, but took a long time to regain it which I suspect may not have been the case had he been on the pitch; if he goes off, then Mikel is the obvious answer in terms of ball retention.
A title winning team? Maybe not, but on first impressions AVB has set his stall out well and with some tweaking here and there, we should be there or thereabouts come next May, as Fergie suggested.
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