If I got a pound for every time I read rival fans on this blog write, “United only won the European Cup because John Terry slipped”, I’d be a very rich man indeed. As is part and parcel of football support in this country, your success will always be undermined by your rivals.
I remember distinctly my feelings towards Arsenal fans as I left the Millenium Stadium following our FA Cup defeat to Arsenal in 2005. We’d absolutely thrashed them, from start to finish, yet couldn’t find the back of the net, so lost on penalties. Arsenal fans couldn’t care less that they’d been the second best team that day, because they had their team’s name of the FA Cup.
I’ve still not watched the match in full since that wonderful night in Moscow, I’m saving it for a time where football is leaving me rather depressed (if Liverpool finally manage to beat us in the league again, Mark Hughes’ City knocking us out of the Cup etc.). My half-drunken memories serve me fairly accurately though I imagine and the idea that it was Terry’s slip that gifted us the European Cup is bitter, to say the least.
United absolutely battered Chelsea in the first 45 minutes and should have been 3-0 up, with chances flying in from Tevez and Carrick. Chelsea’s goal came from the ball taking not one, but two deflections off United players, before an Edwin Van der Sar slip on the wet ground meant Lampard had an easy chance to put in to the net.
Regardless, we went in at 1-1 at half time, giving Chelsea all the confidence in the World to come back fighting. If they could be battered in the way they were for the first half, United surprising even the most devout red at the domineering football they played, particularly in light of the league fixtures just weeks before, which Chelsea had controlled, yet still be level, then they certainly had a reason to give it everything they could in the second half.
Chelsea didn’t dominate United in the way they had been in the first 45 minutes, but they were easily the better side. They played with confidence and composure. By the end of the 120 minutes, Chelsea had hit the woodwork twice and United had a shot cleared off the line.
With two teams so close, with just two points separating them on the last day of the Premiership season, penalties were predictably the only way to separate them.
The official UEFA stats show United having 5 shots on target to Chelsea’s 3, as well as possession 58-42 in United’s favour. The only advantage Chelsea have is on the off target shots, which dominated United 15-6, which is a clear indicator of the chances they were creating.
Sky Sports have United down for 5 shots on target, in comparison to Chelsea’s 1 (Lampard’s goal). United’s passing success was 80.4% to Chelsea’s 71.1%. United’s possession at 55.9% to Chelsea’s 44.1%. Again, Chelsea’s dominance in off-target shots was shown 18-5 in their favour. This was shown also on Setanta Sports.
Of course, I’m not going to argue that because United tested Chelsea’s keeper more and had greater possession of the ball, that we have conclusive evidence that United deserved to win. Had United lost in Moscow, it would have been ridiculous to say “Yeh, well, we had more possession than you, therefore we were robbed.” That’s not how it works, as I well know.
However, the fact that we had more shots on target and the fact we saw almost 20% more of the ball than Chelsea did, suggests that it wasn’t just John Terry’s slip that enabled United to win.
But if the stats don’t do it for you, here’s a quick summary.
1. Chelsea would have lost the game 1-0 if not for Van der Sar slipping in the same way that John Terry had. He ended up on his knees, meaning a shot that would have been easily blocked flew over his head. Funnily, it’s only JT’s slip that is remembered as a match defining moment.
2. Didier Drogba was sent off for stupidly slapping Nemanja Vidic. Had he not acted so wrecklessly, he would have been on the field for the remaining four minutes, and therefore able to take the penalty that John Terry missed.
3. Anelka missed a penalty in sudden death. Chelsea had the same opportunity as us to win the shoot-out after 5 penalties had been taken. United took that opportunity.
Essentially though, United could have been battered from start to finish and could have won thanks to a goal off Ronaldo’s arse, it wouldn’t make me feel any better or worse about the fact we are European Champions. I learnt something from the FA Cup final against Arsenal. Whilst as United fans we’ll always strive for entertaining, domineering and exciting football, the most important thing will always be the winning. Picking up points and lifting trophies, that’s what it’s all about. If we can win by playing entertaining football, as we did for large chunks of the final in Moscow, then brilliant, but if we get the win when not the best team on the park, then it isn’t going to change my feelings on the end result. I suppose the point to note is that saying they only lost because of Terry’s slip does make Chelsea fans feel better about the result, and that’s why we keep hearing it. And if we get to be Champions of Europe, they can say it all day long for all I care!