As I sat in my seat before kick off on Sunday, I experienced a completely different feeling to the two previous Chelsea games at Old Trafford. Last year, I thought we’d be celebrating a point from the blues who had gone for months unbeaten in the league and had a phenomenal run of wins so far that season. For the entire second half I was waiting for them to equalise, and through the willing of the fans and the players, it never happened. The season before, after the embarrassing guard of honour we had to go through before kick off, I thought there might have been some hope when Ruud opened the scoring. But no, we were humiliated with a 3-1 loss at home.
This time it was different. For the first time in a while, I felt confident, and knew that if we played as well as we had on occasions so far this season, we’d end the day six points clear. Things started off well for us, with our players bringing the ball forward at speed and keeping our opponent’s strike force at bay. Our players looked up for it, and we were playing great football. Chelsea’s midfield, consisting of four of the best central midfielders in the World, Lampard, Essien, Ballack and Makekele, would have been expected to dominate the centre of the park, but Scholes and Carrick held themselves well, making good tackles, keeping the ball and passing themselves out of any danger. Despite spending a lot of time in the Chelsea half and breaking in to the box, our goal came from an unlikely chance. The move started with Carrick winning the ball in our half. Rooney played a great ball in to Saha, who had Carvalho and Terry to beat. He took the it well, and managed to curl it around Carvalho’s foot, leaving the defenders to watch the ball creep inside the post past Cudicini’s outstretched arm. A cracking goal which came from nothing.
The crowd were amazing, cheering on and singing for the team all day. Old Trafford often gets a lot of stick for its home support, but there was nothing to complain about on Sunday. The fans were overjoyed, as well as a tad surprised, to see Saha’s shot hit the back of the net, and celebrated in full force. Mourinho, who has recently slated the support his fans give to Chelsea at the Bridge, said there was an “unbelievable atmosphere,” at Old Trafford.
All the chances in the game seemed to fall to United, with Chelsea resorting to shooting from long distance with Vidic and Ferdinand keeping £24 million man Drogba and £30 million man Shevchenko out of the game. Chelsea certainly improved in the second half with the addition of Robben, and their general play was better than United’s. However, they still failed to create any decent chances. Their equalising goal came twenty minutes from the end with a set piece. Carvalho headed in a chance which looked to be saved from Van der Sar, before Saha tried to keep the ball out.
The former Arsenal left back, Ashley Cole, was given a lot of stick by the home crowd. After several fouls on Ronaldo, the last of these seeing an injury to the United winger, and then his substitution, caused uproar in the stands.
Disappointment fell over Old Trafford as the final whistle blew. We could have gone six points clear, and based on our first half performances and opportunities throughout the game, we probably should have done. Chelsea will go home satisfied with a point, although still stand three points behind us.
When looking at positives from the game, the performance of new signing Michael Carrick stands out. He could have been out of his depth when facing the experience of the Chelsea midfield, but he shone, making important tackles and passing the ball around the field well. His performance paid off, with him collecting the Man of the Match award. His post match comments summed up the game well. “We played well in the first half and going a goal up was a big moment for us; it gave us something to hold on to. But they came at us in the second half and played well. They didn’t really create many chances – they had a couple of shots from distance – but unfortunately a sloppy set piece has cost us.”
Also, we can see the reason why we didn’t win lies in our own hands, and gives us things to work on. Had Chelsea shown up at Old Trafford, bossed us around the field, and we managed to equalise not long before the end, we might have had reason to worry. The problem was with us though, rather than our opposition being superior to us, so there isn’t likely to be any confidence lacking within the camp.
The games we have ahead should be opportunities to at least hold our three point advantage. We face Everton on Wednesday, possibly without Saha and Ronaldo who were injured in the game, but with Ole set to return from injury. This is followed by Middlesborough away, who United may feel they have a point to prove against after being humiliated in this fixture last season. Benfica at home, which unless disaster strikes, should see us in to the next round of Europe, then followed by most fans favourite game of the season… derby day.
All in all, not a great weekend for the reds, but not a bad weekend either. We’re still three points clear at the top, with a far superior goal difference, and a strong desire to go in to the New Year still looking down on Chelsea.
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