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Amidst all the recent controversy surrounding Mark Clattenburg, Manchester United’s feat of finally being Chelsea at Stamford Bridge for the first time in over ten years should not be forgotten. It wasn’t a great performance from United but after incurring some shocking decisions at Stamford Bridge, it was nice to see the luck go in our favor.
Sir Alex’s gamble of playing with two wingers seemingly paid off. However, using such a formation also highlights the team’s inability to remain disciplined. It was a major reason in allowing Chelsea back into the game along with United letting their foot ease off the gas pedal.
As so many witnessed on Sunday, the ability to play with either the diamond or with two wingers keeps the opposition on their toes. Chelsea were a bit unsure on how we would setup and Sir Alex made sure we punished them for their uncertainty. It’s been known for some time Chelsea leave their flanks exposed. Combined with the fact they haven’t been defending well, it was an area to exploit. To start off, Chelsea were too narrow and both Ivanovic and Cole had very little support defensively from Mikel or Ramires who operated as the two holding midfielders. Their front four offered were lax in covering the holes from the front. In those first 20 minutes, Chelsea’s defensive shape was so disorganized, United couldn’t have had an easier task in breaking them down. It also culminated from United’s own tactics. Defensively we had Rooney, Carrick, and Cleverley as a midfield 3 staying compact and our wingers tucked in from wide ensuring Chelsea’s attacking players had little joy on the ball and weren’t able to break us down through the middle.
It was amazing how easy we scored the first two goals. They weren’t necessarily from fantastic pieces of build-up play. Both resulted from Valencia finding space and Cole constantly being caught out of position and in one-on-one situations against Valencia with no defensive help. The first was especially bad for Chelsea as Young drifted towards the middle and picked up the ball right between their midfield and defensive lines. None of our players were picked up in the box, Valencia’s cross arrived, Van Persie’s shot hit the pass and then the fortuitous bounce off of David Luiz. It was an indication of a defensive meltdown and it was no surprise we punished them in the same manner for the second.
Whenever Manchester United obtains a lead, the old habit of easing off the pressure creeps in and allows the opposition to come onto us. It is true, with a team of Chelsea’s quality, you would expect them to get back into the game. However, we made it difficult for ourselves by being content in sitting back. It meant our defensive pressure became more of a containment strategy and Di Matteo used it as an opportunity to make slight adjustments. Any time we won the ball back, one of Chelsea’s front four were right on top of Rooney, leaving Cleverley and Carrick few options as our wingers were too wide and we became isolated. The times we did break out of our own half, we didn’t keep it for very long and Chelsea used our poor use of the ball to put us on the back foot. Once Mikel’s cross was deflected onto the post by Evans, it became a turning point as Chelsea grew in belief they could snatch something before halftime. In midfield, we had begun to lose our way and we struggled to pick up markers as our defensive positioning went awry. The culmination of this change in momentum resulted in Rooney’s frustration leading to Chelsea’s first as he clumsily hacked down Mata just outside the 18 and the Spaniard struck home a perfect free kick.
It was a similar story in the second half , although there was one slight change which made our defensive issues even problematic. It was clear Di Matteo instructed Ramires to get forward and join Mata, Oscar, and Hazard more in attack. Our midfielders were getting pulled left and right and we didn’t look sure how to contain their movement as they continued to pass around and through our midfield. Carrick was a major liability on Sunday as too many times, he was either bypassed or too slow to cut off a passing lane. Cleverley wasn’t much better but for an experienced player like Carrick to contribute so little in a defensive capacity was worrying. It led to Rooney trying to overcompensate and gave the impression that we were indeed overrun. After the second, it seemed we were in a lot of trouble. Yet, Chelsea did the same exact thing United did when we were 2-0 up. They began to drop off and it allowed us to get back into the game. Within five minutes, Van Persie turns Cahill with ease and puts Ashley Young through, only for Ivanovic to trip him and rightly be sent off. From a tactical standpoint, once Chelsea went down to 10 men and eventually 9, the match became less interesting.
If United had been more clinical, the scoreline could have been much for worse for Chelsea. But if you ask any United fan, they won’t care. Beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was not only surprising but a welcome relief. In games where we performed well there, we were simply robbed by some shocking decisions. Now, with a less convincing performance, we pulled out the unlikeliest of results. Their home record against us was bound to change sometime. Thankfully, we no longer have to wait another year to end our winning drought against them. We have some serious issues to address before the Arsena match as well as the rest of the season. Many will point to our midfield leaving the backline exposed all too often. I see it as a team issue. Hopefully the staff can figure out why we lose our concentration and discipline so easily. If we’re not careful, we’ll get a hiding from it and I fear our amazing attack wouldn’t be able to bail us out.
I’m sure our boys will measure up to the test but one thing is for sure, both sides will concede goals.