Premiership: Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea

Match reports

Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “This was a good point for Chelsea, one they are convinced will be a turning point in the title race. All draws are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Chelsea left Old Trafford last night with a smile and a belief that they can keep the title at the Bridge. In the noisy, self-regarding animal farm that is the Premiership, Manchester United are a creature of great beauty, but yesterday they ran into opponents whose hunger and stamina are astonishing.”

The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “An afternoon that left the top of the table undisturbed still carried portents of transformations to come. While Manchester United could have opened up a 2-0 lead, the life was gradually drained from them as the indomitable visitors showed why Martin O’Neill calls Chelsea the most powerful team in Europe. Physical strength allied to improved coordination after the interval threw a bellowing crowd into an introspective mood at the close.”

The Independent, Andy Hunter: “The most important fact is that United still sit on top of the Premiership by three points, but Jose Mourinho did not look like a man who feared that his third consecutive title was out of sight. Neither did his players, who went over to applaud their supporters with some relish after a second-half equaliser had levelled Louis Saha’s goal ­ all helped by another masterful tactical change-up from Mourinho.”

The Times, Matt Dickinson: “Sir Alex Ferguson may feel entitled to claim that his team are presently the best in the country, but Mourinho has more options and, crucially, he knows how to use them. Which other manager could have transformed this game by bringing on a left winger for a right back? Certainly not Ferguson, who looked to the bench for a forward and saw only Darren Fletcher. Therein lies the worry for those who hope that the champions can be stopped from winning a third successive Premiership title.”

The good

  1. The result. A good point and a fair result despite Chelsea having 59% of the possession. It was the proverbial game of two halves, Manchester United shading the first, Chelsea bossing the second. Jose Mourinho is correct when he says United wasted a “big, big chance” to apply some serious pressure. It’s going to be an interesting title race.
  2. Ashley Cole. He had Ronaldo in his pocket for the majority of the game, at one point even going so far as to communicate this fact to the Old Trafford crowd. He took the Portuguese out of the game late on with a slightly mistimed tackle – Ronaldo had probably had enough by then anyway.
  3. Michael Essien. For all intents and purposes he was practically anonymous in the first half. But once Jose Mourinho switched tactics and put him at right-back he thundered into United (seemingly playing right midfield at the same time) and eventually earned the corner from which we equalised. The temporary answer to our problems at right-back? Joe Cole and Arjen Robben probably hope he plays there more often this season.
  4. Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry. Carvalho was probably at fault for United’s goal – he allowed Louis Saha too much time and space to get his shot off – but he more than made up for it with a great equaliser. He and Terry, who made a serious of crucial tackles, were superb.
  5. Howard Webb. I can only recall him making one mistake – a horrible tackle from behind by Gabriel Heinze on Didier Drogba which went unpunished and nearly led to a United goal. Apart from that he was excellent, even refusing to be sucked in by the United players’ attempts to get our players booked or sent off (Nemanja Vidic in particular deserved a yellow card for feigning serious injury and a hand in the face after a 50-50 tackle with Michael Ballack).

The bad

  1. Our narrow midfield. The trio of Essien, Ballack and Frank Lampard playing in front of Claude Makelele didn’t handle the width of Ryan Giggs and Ronaldo in the first half – Ballack in particular was more a liability than a world class midfielder. Cole dealt admirably with Ronaldo but Geremi struggled to cope with Giggs’s guile, as many predicted he would. Mourinho’s inspired (or entirely necessary?) decision to substitute Geremi for a midfielder (Robben – not good but gave Gary Neville more to think about) and switch to 4-3-3 changed the game. Ballack certainly improved in the second half.
  2. Andriy Shevchenko. What on earth happened to the Ukrainian’s pace? I don’t recall him once getting the better of a United player. Surely it can’t all be down to the knee injury he sustained prior to the World Cup? I’m hoping it’s more a problem with confidence than a physical one. It does take time to get used to the pace and power of the Premiership, but does Shevchenko have time on his side?

Man of the Match

Ashley Cole. He was our best player over the 90 minutes. Michael Essien’s second half performance deserves a mention as does Ricardo Carvalho, but Cole edged it for me.

Sky’s decision to award the Man of the Match to Michael Carrick beggared belief.

Final thoughts

It seems odd to me that Mourinho chose to deploy this season’s preferred 4-4-2 formation. Many predicted it would struggle up against United’s wingers, and so it proved. Was it a case of Mourinho shoehorning Ballack and Shevchenko into the line-up? If so, it nearly cost us. If it wasn’t for the outstanding Essien and his seeming ability to play more than one position at the same time, we could well have been looking at a 6 point gap going into tomorrow’s tough away trip to Bolton.

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