1. Finally! At long last! It is over! Ten years we’ve had to wait to get a result at Stamford Bridge and yesterday, when we really needed it, we got it. As Sir Alex Ferguson correctly identified before the game, there have been matches at Chelsea we’ve deserved to win but have been robbed horribly by the referee, none worse than the game in the 2009-2010 season. Chelsea went on to win the title by one point that season, making the robbery all the worse. If United go on to beat Chelsea to the title by one point, yesterday afternoon’s game might be one Chelsea fans look back on with similar feelings. They were robbed today, but not quite as much as the press/their fans will have you believe. More later.
2. What an outstanding start to a football game. After conceding early on against pretty much every team we play, it only stands to reason that we’d go to a ground where we haven’t won in ten years, facing a team who are beating every one they play, and go 2-0 up after 12 minutes. The first goal was created by Wayne Rooney, who was excellent for the first half an hour of today’s game, after he picked up the ball in our half, played a one-two with Ashley Young, before crossing to Robin van Persie. The Dutchman smashed it against the woodwork and it bounced around the box before hitting David Luiz and crossing the line. The move for the second goal was started by Rio Ferdinand, who lifted the ball to Rafael da Silva, who went on a run. Rafael played in Antonio Valencia who provided a perfect cross to Van Persie and he made no mistakes with this one. Cech had no chance.
3. For the rest of that opening first half an hour we bossed the game. You knew it couldn’t go on forever but it was thoroughly enjoyable to watch. Rooney had been playing fairly deep and was dictating our game. He was the best player on the park but then saw his arse when Eden Hazard robbed him of the ball in a position he was probably favourite to get it. So he chased after the new Chelsea man and fouled him. There was a red wall of defenders in front of Hazard, a completely unnecessary challenge, but it seems as though that part of Rooney’s game won’t go away.
4. David de Gea got stick from some people for Chelsea’s first goal but I think any keeper would have struggled to keep that one out. Juan Mata is an excellent player and his freekick was inch perfect. De Gea took a step to his left just before Mata struck the ball meaning it was just out of his reach, but he probably felt like he couldn’t leave the other half of his goal so unprotected in case Mata did beat the wall. Just one of those things. He made some outstanding saves, most notably the close range stop from a Torres header, which kept us in the game. Whenever he makes his next mistake, which he will do, because he’s human, I hope Fergie sticks with him. All this chopping and changing nonsense is ridiculous. David is our number one.
5. Once Chelsea pulled a goal back, one of the more controversial moments of the game occurred. Torres kicked Tom Cleverley (who, by and large, had a game to forget) in the chest and got nothing on the ball. Think De Jong vs Alonso in the World Cup final. Had Cleverley fallen to the floor with a pained expression, he would have made it easy for Clattenburg to send Torres off. As it was, he got to his feet and shook hands, meaning Torres got away with it. Chelsea were still losing at this point and we were still in the first half. Had they gone down to ten men at this stage it would have taken away the momentum they had gained in the last fifteen minutes of the half and meant they had a full 45 minutes with Torres on the park. He made it until the 68th minute though with Clattenburg deeming his fall following a challenge from Jonny Evans to be a dive. It’s a tricky one. Both Evans and Ferguson acknowledged that there was contact but both asserted that Torres made the choice to go to ground. It’s true. The contact was so minimal and Torres’ fall was so delayed and exaggerated (why was he holding his knee and rolling around as if in agony?) that you could easily call it a dive. Evans made contact with Torres’ right shin but it was his left leg that gave way. Does there have to be no contact for it to be classed as simulation?
In the 2008 study, Tackling Diving: The Perception of Deceptive Intentions in Association football, a dive was deemed to have the following traits: 1. a separation in time between the impact and the simulation, 2. a lack of ballistic continuity (the player moves further than would be expected from the momentum of the tackle) and 3. lack of contact consistency (the player nurses a body part other than where the impact occurred, such as contact to the chest causing the player to fly to the ground, holding his face). Torres was guilty of all three.
The laws of the game state that: “any simulating action anywhere on the field, which is intended to deceive the referee, must be sanctioned as unsporting behaviour”. Simulating is to do something which looks real but is not real. So, just because there’s contact, does that mean it’s a foul? If you throw yourself up in the air and then roll around holding your knee, is that not simulation?
I think the referee can justify his decision to send Torres off. It is interesting to compare the reaction to this decision with the reaction to penalties that Young has felt when there has been definite contact but not enough to warrant him falling over. The press and opposition fans have happily labelled him a diver when he’s chosen to go to ground, despite there being minimal contact. In all honesty though, if Young went through on goal, got clipped, threw himself to the floor, then got a second yellow for it, I’d be pissed off and say it was the wrong decision.
6. Chelsea’s first red card occurred when Young went through on goal and got clipped by Ivanovic. Unusually for Young, I don’t think he actually was guilty of a dive in this situation. Ivanovic wasn’t trying to bring him down but he just got in the way and Young was too fast for him. In these situations at Stamford Bridge, we are used to the referee turning a blind eye or pulling out just a yellow card (think David Luiz last season or John Terry on Valencia in the box a couple of seasons before), so it was quite a shock to see a red come out. There can’t really be any complaints though.
7. The decision where Chelsea can really be aggrieved is the winning goal scored by substitute Javier Hernandez. He has a lovely habit of scoring against them. His first United goal was in the Community Shield against them, after he kicked the ball in to his face. He then scored against them in our 2-1 victory in the Champions League and again at the end of the season in the first minute of our 2-1 win which more or less sealed the title. Last season he scored the equalising goal at Stamford Bridge after we had gone 3-0 down. Yesterday, the player who is always offside or there abouts, scored the winner 15 minutes from time after running back from an offside position and not getting himself onside in time, after Cech fumbled Van Persie’s effort. Maybe you can look at this decision cancelling out the ref’s failure to send Torres off when they were losing, but we got our rub of the green with this one. Having scored two goals midweek, I had wanted Chicharito to start this game, believing he had another goal against Chelsea in him. With hindsight, the tactics were spot on, but I’m still chuffed Chicharito got his opportunity to shine.
8. I was very surprised to see United line-up with a 442 against Chelsea, having seen the manager play around with a diamond formation so regularly this season. That formation saw us deliver a great performance and result away to Newcastle and with Chelsea having the talent of Mata, Oscar and Hazard on show, I assume we’d look for some way of countering that. Instead, incredibly rarely for United in big games, we took our style to them with the hope we would outscore them and take advantage of their shaky defence. Would this have worked if the game had remained 11 vs 11? Who knows. Thankfully, Chelsea’s back four were all over the shop and we got those two early goals to put us in a excellent position to win the game.
9. Whilst it was good team performance, the player that stood out for me was Van Persie. He had a hand in all three of the goals as well as Ivanovic’s sending off. His clever ball through to Young caught Ivanovic out and lead to his clumsy clash. When our fans were weighing up the pros and cons of splashing out so much money on an older striker, you couldn’t ignore the fact this man is world class. He has the ability to win you football games. Whilst his name was on the scoresheet just the once, he was pivotal to our success yesterday, and that’s exactly why the manager thought he was worth the cash.
10. After that opening half an hour we weren’t too impressive and Chelsea still held their own when they lost their players. It was end to end for the first hour but it stands to reason that the quality of the game deteriorated after they had men sent off. All of it is fairly irrelevant though because the points are in the bag and that’s all that matters. To have fallen seven points behind them would have put us in a tricky situation at such an early point in the season. You don’t want to be chasing for months. United are now in a pretty comfortable position and it was hard to imagine that being the case on Sunday morning. Onwards and upwards…