1. The first 45 minutes left us asking why we didn’t play like this every away game and why we didn’t play 442. Maybe the second question answers the first. After trying a 4 man midfield against Wigan, albeit with Nani on his less favoured left wing and Darren Fletcher shifted out from central midfield to the right, the manager saw enough to take a risk against Chelsea. When was the last time we played this formation for a regular away game before this, let alone a big one? It worked though. I’m not kidding myself in to thinking Frank Lampard or Michael Essien are anywhere near as good as they used to be and Ramires has yet to look like an £18m player, but Paul Scholes controlled the midfield for that first half and our only regret is we didn’t do more to capitalise that, given our 56% possession from the first half.
2. With Wayne Rooney getting booed every time he went near the ball, he seemed to have fire in his belly and a desire to shut them up. Unfortunately for him, David Luiz was having a great game and for the most part, was getting the best of him. All it took is one slack moment though, with the Brazilian defender giving him too much room, for Rooney to score his first goal from outside the box in three years. I could hardly believe it went in. He was 25 yards out and hit it with great power and accuracy. The ball crept just inside the post and it was exactly what we deserved. After scoring a vitally important goal against City, it was looking as though he was really going to start earning his money, despite a less than impressive performance. 5 goals in his past 8 games is certainly getting there and whilst we would like to see a better first touch and improvement in his ability to retain possession, it’s good to see the goals going in.
3. You can’t have a reaction without addressing the refereeing decisions which have yet again cost us the three points against Chelsea. It’s getting beyond a joke now. Nani lashed a fierce on target attempt in the first half which John Terry clearly blocked with his left arm. A far less blatant penalty was awarded down the other end against us. Luiz was guilty of a further two yellow card offences after being booked, the first for body checking Chicharito once the ball had gone. The second was even worse, with Rooney running to the box in anticipation of a return ball, only for Luiz to cynically stick his leg out and trip him. Down the other end, a tug on Ramires’ shirt was enough for the referee to give Vidic a second yellow and his marching orders. Not getting decisions is one thing as it’s entirely frustrating not to get a penalty you deserve and to see the opponents with the disadvantage they deserve of playing against ten men, but seeing the opposition get the decisions you didn’t is even worse.
4. Whilst we can’t ignore the fact Martin Atkinson’s incompetence (bias? This is the second year running he has handed the points on a plate to Chelsea against us at Stamford Bridge) we shouldn’t ignore that we were disappointing in the second half after such a strong first half. We struggled to keep the tempo up and were too keen to sit back. Maybe Scholesy doesn’t have the legs to boss an entire game, particularly with Michael Carrick not pulling his weight. Darren Fletcher had a good first half, battling away down that right wing, but dropped off in the second half. Nani had two men on him all the time and struggled to make an impact. Rooney had a great opportunity to draw us back level but neither shot or crossed, with the ball going miles of the post but not going close enough for the players running on to it in the box.
5. On a night that was pretty sickening, one moment to bring a smile to our faces was the sight of Gary Neville in the stands with the fans. It was particularly amusing to see his reaction to the Rooney miss, clearly shouting “Wazza! Fucking hell!”
6. The David Luiz equaliser was a killer. It had taken us 30 minutes of dominance for us to get our goal whilst it took Chelsea less than 10 minutes. It was a defensive error from Patrice Evra, who didn’t get close enough to Luiz as the ball fell to him in the box. It was a great strike, equally as close to the post as Rooney’s, and unstoppable for Van der Sar.
7. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I was raging before kick-off about the decision to drop Dimitar Berbatov in favour of Rooney and Chicharito. This would have been more understandable, whilst still frustrating, if we’d gone with a 433, using Rooney on the left. But to play a 442 and not start Berbatov, what does that tell us? This guy is the league’s top scorer. Can you imagine any other club in the world choosing no to play the league’s top scorer in one of their most important games of the season? It’s beyond belief. There’s the theory that Berbatov doesn’t do well in the big games. I don’t know where people can draw that conclusion from, given how few big games he’s played in during his time at United. The biggest game he’s started this season was Liverpool and he scored a hattrick. He was dropped for Arsenal at home and didn’t even get subbed on, dropped for City at home and now dropped for Chelsea away. What is that supposed to do for his confidence when he does get to play? Clearly the boss doesn’t fancy him for it, so why should he fancy himself? However, unlike pretty much any other striker in the world, he appreciates the club enough to take the insult of being benched despite being the top scorer. I assume we’ll see him start at Anfield with a knocked confidence and increased pressure after our strikers didn’t do enough last night to keep our secure position at the top of the league.
8. Park Ji-Sung and Anderson are big misses for games like this, with the ability and desire to drive the ball forward and get in people’s way. I look forward to taking on Chelsea at Old Trafford when hopefully we’ll have more players available to ensure the decisions that will no doubt go against us don’t change the game. It will be a good day when even Roman’s dosh isn’t enough to ensure a win against United.
9. Sir Alex Ferguson will take a fine and probably a touchline ban for questioning the integrity, as well as the ability, of the referee. It will be worth it for him. He can spend the rest of this week harbouring a siege mentality in our players, as he has done so successfully before, with the aim of inspiring a passionate display at Anfield. It’s gutting to lose in this manner again but there’s a long way to go yet. United to win the league and Chelsea to finish 5th? Stranger things have happened.
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