Sunday, 5 February 2012

Chelsea vs United: Minute by Minute

Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Boswinga; Mereiles, Essien, Malouda: Mata, Torres, Sturridge. Subs: Turnbull, Bertrand, Romeu, Hutchinson, Piazzon, Lukaku, Ferreira

Man Utd: De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Young; Rooney, Welbeck. Subs: Amos, Rafael, Park, Berbatov, Hernandez, Pogba, Scholes

Referee: Howard Webb

Prediction: Chelsea 0 Man Utd 2

With the notable exception of John Terry, everyone involved in this fixture will be breathing a sigh of relief that the deposed England captain misses out with a knee injury. For the second consecutive week a Terry/Ferdinand handshake had threatened to overshadow a huge and potentially combustible football fixture. Let’s hope that this week’s Premier League game is better than the damp squib at QPR last weekend where the most interesting things to happen were things which didn’t actually happen: a pointless pre-match pleasantry and a foul on Danny Sturridge.

Almost unbelievably, Chelsea are a point better off than at this stage last season with Juan Mata forging more goalscoring opportunities than anyone else in the top flight this season. With Drogba missing, Torres misfiring and Sturridge in the midst of a drought, Andreas Villas Boas will be desperately hoping someone in his side can capitalise on Mata’s creativity to trouble the shaky Spaniard David De Gea.

United boast the best away record in the league but have been appalling in league fixtures at Stamford Bridge in recent years. They’ll be hoping that the return of their injured troops can spark the beginning of a run which might see them depose their city rivals at the top of the table. Valencia, with nine assists in nine games will relish the opportunity to test Chelsea’s stand-in left back, Boswinga. On the opposite flank, Ashley Young will hope to return to his early-season form after his return from injury.

It’s all over at the Sports Direct Arena (it actually hurts my fingers to type that) where the always entertaining Toon Army prevailed 2-1 against an Aston Villa who were far less turgid than anyone expected. Against his old club, Charles N’Zogbia teed up Robbie Keane for a cracker and Demba Ba scored on his return from the Cup of Nations. But it was the Senegalese debutante, Papisse Demba Cisse, who stole the show with a belter welted into the top corner with his left peg. A superb strike from the Magpies’ new number nine.

United might never get a better opportunity to flex their Mancunian muscles at The Bridge. With Chelsea’s trio of England stalwarts missing through injury and suspension, the Blues actually look weaker than an injury ravaged United - who welcome back Young and Rooney but lose Smalling (who along with Jones, Rafael, Fabio, Anderson et al) seems incapable of putting a run of back-to-back games together).

Expect the Red Devils to pour forward down the flanks in an attempt to expose Chelsea’s out-of-position fullbacks – and their new central defensive partnership of Sideshow Bob and Gary Cahil. Chelsea will aim to outnumber Fergie’s side in the centre of midfield and run the legs of 87 year old Ryan Giggs. Given that one of Chelsea’s central three is Florent Malouda, this could be a tall order.

Alan Smith is anticipating Juan Mata lining up in the hole behind Fernando Torres. It’ll be interesting to see exactly how Chelsea shape up. United like a traditional Fergie 4-4-2 formation.


We’re away with United kicking off and playing from left to right. Both sides give the ball away several times in the first twenty seconds.

Evra is upended on the left corner of the Chelsea eighteen yard box – from the free-kick Rooney gets an early sighter of Cech’s goal. He doesn’t trouble the keeper.

Is Cech’s scrum-cap a necessity or an affectation?

Rio Ferdinand is being booed by the Stamford Bridge faithful. Presumably this is because his brother has allegedly been racially abused by a Chelsea player. Imagine the reception he’d get if he was the one accused of the abuse. Cheered to the rafters presumably.

A couple of corners for Chelsea come to nought – but David De Gea looked all at sea and made an utterly pathetic fist of fisting the ball to safety. He clearly inspires no confidence in his teammates.

A prone Essien plays Young onside in the box leading to a tangle of legs and a half-hearted penalty appeal. Nothing doing from Webb.

Mata is definitely more central than I anticipated – some good movement between he and Torres opens up space for Boswinga to have a pop at goal. It’s saved easily.

United have strong penalty appeals turned down. Welbeck gets goal side of Cahill who brings the striker down in a foul which began outside the box and ended with him tripping Welbeck inside it. Fergie will be apoplectic. Replays show that Webb had a great view of it – and still got it badly wrong.

Sir Alex is giving the fourth official a Wrigley’s scented mouthful on the touchline. Quite what effect he thinks this might have is unclear but he’s right to be angry.

It’s scrappy so far but United are the more threatening. Chelsea seem unable to clear their lines properly – constantly playing each other into trouble around their own box and playing simple clearances to the feet of United players. If it carries on like this United will soon break through.

Rafael gives the ball away cheaply, Torres is dragged to the ground and Chelsea have an opportunity to lump the ball into the danger zone. It’s flat and wasted by Mereiles who really needed to stick it under De Gea’s chin and watch the ensuing carnage.

Space opens up in front of United’s box but instead of charging into the gap, Torres takes a swipe at goal from 22 yards. He cuts across it and it slides harmlessly wide. It was a shot which betrayed his lack of confidence. I actually feel sorry for him now.

Interestingly, both sets of central defenders are playing on the opposite sides to where you’d expect them. Luiz and Ferdinand are both patrolling the left half of the pitch – not their normal positions.

Juan Mata scoops a rugby-league style bomb into the United area which Evans volleys away at full stretch. Chelsea are growing into this now – but neither side has yet created a clear-cut chance with players from both teams coming short to create and thus emptying the eighteen yard boxes.

Rooney just beat the offside trap after a neat ball from Valencia. He got the ball stuck under his feet when he ought to have been charging for goal. Instead he rolled a ball across Cech’s six yard line for Welbeck only to see Ivanovic clear for a corner (which came to nothing). Poor from Wazza, that.

Torres is booked for charging into the back of Evans with his extremities stuck out. The Northern Irishman goes down after being poked with a double whammy of knees and elbows. Utterly needless from the Spaniard who’s looking increasingly frustrated with himself.

Danny Welbeck runs around a lot.

Some uncertainty in the United box leaves a number of Red Devils flat footed. Evra is turned inside out by Sturridge who cuts the ball back from the byline. It cannons off De Gea, ricochets off Evans and nestles in the net. Dreadful defending from United.

The game explodes into life as De Gea is forced into a plunging save from a fizzing long-distance drive. At the other end Cech performs similar heroics to thwart Young – and gets enough glove on the ball to stop Rooney tapping in the rebound.

Chelsea have been scrappy and have had less of the ball but have taken their only chance. United have threatened little, although Welbeck has just drawn a smart stop from Cech. Fergie will be wondering how to adjust his forward line at the interval unless they can pop in an equaliser soon.

After a sustained spell of United pressure the game has really opened up. It’s end to end and littered with mistakes – great entertainment but not great quality. Moves keep breaking down twenty yards out with players diving into challenges left, right and centre.

Ivanovic is booked for having the fattest arse in football. And then Mata sends Giggs sprawling. One last chance for United to pump the ball forward...

And Cech tips his shot around the base of the post.

It’s half time in a game Chelsea will be delighted to leading. It’s been tense and tight, but United have been marginally the better side. It’ll be interesting to hear Red Nev’s thoughts on that penalty non-decision. Whether it was inside the box or out, it was a foul and Cahill ought to have seen red.

Neville and Redknapp think United should have had a penalty for a challenge on Young – but the player fell forward when having his shirt pulled backwards. The player has undermined his own case with a dramatic tumble there. They don’t think it was a penalty for Cahill’s foul on Welbeck but it was a foul. I maintain that the defender ought to have been sent off on his debut.

After ensuring his hair looks lustrous, Fernando Torres gets us underway.

From the kick off Chelsea score one of the goals of the season. From the right flank Torres bends it like Beckham to Juan Mata – who spanks an unstoppable volley into the top corner from eight yards out. What a magnificent goal. United look stunned.

Seen from behind the player, Mata’s goal looks even better – he let the ball drop across his body beautifully before wellying it in. De Gea wasn’t miles away from it but he was never, ever going to save it.

A disastrous start to the second half as a free kick from the right wing ends up in United’s net via a combination of David Luiz’s shoulder and a flick off Rio Ferdinand’s back.

United are reeling here. They genuinely have been the better team but have been eviscerated at the start of the second period by a lightning quick start from Chelsea and some awful defending.

Hernandez comes on for Young and is immediately – and predictably – flagged offside. The Mexican’s troubled Luiz in the past, but salvaging anything from this game seems a forlorn hope for Manchester United.

Ferguson has a problem here: it’s too early to accept a defeat but too soon to go gung-ho. What will the master do?

Sturridge brings down Evra and Rooney puts the ball on the spot. His record from 12 yards is awful recently.

He meant that! Rooney almost rips the net out with a piledriver into the top left corner. Game on!!

United have the bit between their teeth now. Hernandez almost squeaks through a gap before Chelsea break up the other end and Sturridge wafts a shot well wide. He’s having an eventful game, young Sturridge.

Ivanovic’s sizeable rear nudges Welbeck out of the way after Giggs almost freed the striker with a slide-rule pass down the left wing.

United make a tactical change – Valencia moves to right back as Paul Scholes enters the fray. It’s Rafael who makes way. United have no genuine width in midfield now and will need to push their fullbacks on – it’s a risky but necessary strategy.

United are caught on the hop as Luiz splits their defence with a simple through ball. After a flick from a defender’s boot takes the ball away from Torres, Mata steers one at goal which De Gea throws his hat on. It’s end to end stuff now.

Great interplay from Giggs, Rooney and Hernandez ends with Cech clutching at a scuffed shot from Rooney – who’s pulling the strings now.

Welbeck goes down in another tangle. It’s not a dive but it might not be a foul either. He left a leg hanging and Ivanovic brought him down. A very strange incident.

Rooney scores emphatically, thumping the ball to Cech’s left. Even if he’d gone the right way he’d have had no chance. Rooney is rising to the occasion now.

It’s Chelsea’s turn to be rattled now. Romeu is on to shore things up in midfield. Sturridge was not happy to be the player hooked. Is AVB inviting pressure now? Surely that’s the last thing he should be doing against a rampant United.

Romeu gives the ball away in midfield and within seconds Hernandez is cutting a shot across Cech and wide. Chelsea are rocking.

Torres rolls the ball back to Essien who hammers a shot from 25 yards which De Gea punches over the bar. It’s more unconvincing goalkeeping from a shot which was straight at him.

Torres has no confidence whatsoever. He breaks into the box and after spurning numerous chances to hit the ball at goal he is crowded out. He didn’t need to beat his man there and should have just put his laces through the ball. He seems so scared of missing that he daren’t shoot. Crazy.

United have Giggs and Welbeck on the wings, Scholes and Carrick in the centre, Hernandez and Rooney up top. Valencia is charging forward at every opportunity too – there’ll be a goal for Chelsea on the break if United don’t nick an equaliser first.

Sustained pressure from United sees them win a corner and time to draw breath. Danny Welbeck meets it but he’s too far beyond the near post and can’t steer his header at goal.

Giggs upends Mereiles and Chelsea pause over the freekick, desperate to take the wind out of United’s sails. They manage to keep the ball a while but it’s soon back with United who pour forward.


Valencia charges down the right and swings a lovely ball into the centre. Rooney goes for goal somehow Cech saves. The ball squirts out to Giggs on the left wing. He teases a beautiful cross into the six yard box, Hernandez springs and powers a header at goal which Cech can’t claw out. United won’t be happy to settle for a point.

For the first time in the history of the Premier League, Martin Tyler is tripping over his words. Mereiles might have equalised there with a better header.

Rooney is shimmering with menace as United steam forward but it’s Chelsea who break and win a corner. United smuggle it away and head upfield only for Evra to run the ball out of play. Somewhere on the excitement Park came on for Welbeck.

There’ll be four added minutes and in the first of them Luiz wins a cheap free kick after tumbling theatrically over Scholes’ non-challenge. It’s to the right of the United box and Mata postage stamps it into the top corner. Except he doesn’t – because De Gea pulls off a wonderfully athletic save. Magnificent from the much maligned Spaniard.

Giggs and Evra combine to win a corner. The United fans are jubilant. Will they see a winner? They ought to have as players throw themselves at Giggs magnificent delivery. There’s a half-arsed penalty appeal as Torres appears to handle, Cech collects a Carrick shot from distance and Hernandez is flagged offside again.

Gary Cahill lumbers forward and launches a blockbuster which De Gea tips over. And that just about wraps it up. Phew.

Wowsers! How do you sum that up? Chelsea will be distraught to have let that lead slip but they were fortunate to have held it in the first place. United will be annoyed they didn’t win – but they gained a point which seemed entirely unlikely after 48 minutes. Rooney and Mata were magnificent, Cech made some great saves and Giggs rolled back the years. But perhaps the game’s defining moment was De Gea’s miraculous save – could it be the moment that convinces the world he’s got what it takes to be United’s number one?

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