Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United
The Reds played the bulk of whatever attractive football happened in the game, notwithstanding occasional exquisite touches from Hazard, but were picked off by a far more streetwise team, Mourinho clearly confident that his side could absorb whatever United produced, contain it and make the most of their own chances. And that’s exactly what happened. Anyone who believes Moyes is a negative tactitian isn’t paying attention: United’s chief problem at the moment is tactical naivety. It was, you felt, a game that cried out for three in midfield, but then to go with 4-4-2 no matter what was something his illustrious predecessor had a tendency towards as well. In that sense, this was a game very much in the classic Mourinho-United sucker punch category helped, it has to be said, by some pretty lax United defending on the second and third goals.
United started with impressive brightness, but found themselves a goal down when Chelsea struck against the run of play, Eto’o cutting in from the right to score via a deflection off Carrick’s leg. Januzaj played in an advanced forward role and it was an experiment that didn’t work. Although he’s played in that role often enough for the Under-21s, he found it more of a challenge against experienced Premiership defenders and when, finding himself out left, he destroyed David Luiz before playing the ball inside, only to find no one there, it seemed an apt illustration of United’s problem in the first half: playing most of the football, but possessing far less of a cutting edge than their opponents. When Welbeck did get on the end of one, he struck his shot straight at Cech while arguably in the process of having his right leg taken away from him: not for the first time this season, the calls for a penalty went unanswered.
It was to prove a crucial moment in the game: having been denied the possibility of going in all square, the Reds were to see the home team double their lead before the break. Chelsea were continuing to cause problems on the break, particularly through Hazard, whose clever play around the box led to a chance for Oscar, who ballooned his overhead kick high over the bar. It was a rare sustained period of pressure just before half-time, however, that led to their second goal, Ramires releasing Cahill, who’d stayed up from a corner, on the right to put in a simple ball from which Eto’o grabbed his second.
When Chelsea and Eto’o added to their tally straight after half-time, the ex-Barcelona man securing his hat-trick by picking up a loose ball after Cahill’s header for a corner had been saved, worries about a cricket score began to form. Facing a sheep or lamb scenario, Moyes brought on Chicharito for Young, a sensible decision given that Januzaj’s tendency to drift left was leaving the Reds with too much on the left and possessing very little threat in the box.
Mourinho has always had a natural tendency to stick rather than twist, though, and the introduction of Mikel for Oscar showed he was understandably happy with 3-0. Although United, largely through the always lively Januzaj, continued to press for a goal, Chelsea largely successfully broke up the tempo of the play and it was difficult to establish any sustained attacking rhythm. Chicharito did pull a goal back when he pounced to score from close range, but that did little other than add slight respectability to the scoreline. Apart from a harsh straight Red received by Vidic for a frustrated challenge on Hazard in stoppage time, and a two-footed lunge from Rafael that seemed more deserving of that punishment, it proved to be the last meaningful action in the game.
There will be some, of course, who see this result as a further illustration that the opposition manager was a horse United ought to have backed; the greater tactical nous was certainly his, by a long distance. Another way to look at it is that Stamford Bridge is once again back to being the fortress it once was and that, were United to approach the rest of the season with the attacking verve they showed in the first half here, not to mention the spirit displayed in the closing stages, it’s unlikely we’d suffer many more results like this.