Monday, January 12, 2009

Manchester United v Chelsea, January 11, Premier League

Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello and Diego Maradona were some of the people supposedly at the venue for this one and Alex Ferguson thumped Scolari to let everyone know that big as the manager legends on the stand (as indeed in the opposing camp) were, the knight from Scotland is probably the first among equals in this elite group.

The final score was three nil with goals from Vidic, Rooney and Berbatov humiliating a Chelsea team, whose ex-Manager must have not recognized the same players that he made almost unbeatable a few seasons ago.

There are of course two parts to the story: Man U were better than they have been recently and Chelsea were appalling.

A midfield of Giggs, Fletcher, Park and Ronaldo was being considered a bit lightweight by the TV pundits but it more than did its job in holding as well as attacking. The Red Devils were not really vastly superior over the ninety minutes, but they were definitely more clinical and less error prone than their opponents. They used the wide areas well and Giggs-Fletcher brought to the central-midfield pairing something that Fletcher-Carrick does not – creativity. Finishing off the opportunities was something that has been lacking for Manchester United but not this Sunday night as they found the net four times of which three goals were given.

We know what we get from Rooney and today was no different, though good plus points to him for scoring in such a critical game. Ronaldo and Berbatov in spite of this thumping are far from their best, but today they had more good moments than they have been having on a per game basis recently. Berba in fact seems to be just one good game away from hitting top form while Ronaldo may be just a little humility away, though I think last year’s heights may be too unattainable even for him.

Chelsea though have lost it. It’s a crisis of confidence in the defense which has now spread up the field. Add to that a problem of one striker too many to choose from and Scolari is not sure of the formation to use or who to start and who to leave on the bench. It’s no use analyzing their performance too much because it was clearly a case of players not being able to do their jobs rather than some tactical deficiency. The only plus in their performance was some neat mid-field passing, but even Arsenal have never looked so unsure of what to do with such skills. Drogba had a nightmare and the easiest way to score against Chelsea now is to float balls into the box. How times change!

So can Chelsea, keep their challenge alive? Yes, they can but they don’t have too many games to do it. More than the points lost in this game, it is the confidence that has drained out, that may be a bigger issue and they don’t need new players to solve it. What they need is great work behind the scenes to fix their defense, strong decision making by the manager which could begin with a clear preferred formation and starting eleven with players kept on merit and no other criteria and the strikers finding form.

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