When the fixtures were released today’s game was considered to be a potential title decider and few amongst fans of either team would have expected Chelsea to travel to Old Trafford with United already crowned champions. Good job United didn’t indeed need a result for their performance was as abysmal as they have produced throughout this campaign.
This season’s fifth contest between the two sides was as dire and depressing to watch as their last meeting. The first three fixtures between United and Chelsea this season had produced 18 goals and chances aplenty, Easter Monday’s FA Cup replay and today’s match registered a grand total of two goals combined.
The draw at Arsenal last week derailed United’s chances to better Chelsea’s record of 95 points in the Premier League and Fergie, who clearly hasn’t forgiven Spurs for beating us earlier in the season, decided to hand Tottenham a lesson by putting Chelsea in the box seat in the race for the Champions League.
That is the only plausible reason behind the decision to field a midfield including Jones, Cleverley and Anderson, with Valencia and Giggs tasked with supporting RVP, while Lindeegard replaced De Gea in goal and Vidic returned to partner Jonny Evans in the back four.
United’s midfield was Andersoned from the start as the Brazilian did his best to make sure Michael Carrick’s absence was felt by everybody at Old Trafford by misplacing virtually every second pass and providing the usual dynamism akin to the one showed by an abandoned washing machine that we have become accustomed to associate with him.
In fairness, Anderson’s job was made a lot easier by Cleverley who seems to be regressing into his shell after a positive campaign, something that United should ponder by the time the transfer window opens. It was to little surprise that, with 13 minutes gone, Oscar was allowed to run 30-40 yards unchallenged before unleashing a swerving shot that Lindegaard deflected onto the post before collecting the rebound.
United’s first sign of life came towards the end of the first half as Ryan Giggs produced a sumptuous ball for Robin Van Persie but the Dutchman, having found space behind Ivanovic, could only steer the ball wide of the post. RVP was at the centre of attention shortly after as he headed Nemanja Vidic’s cross into Petr Cech’s arms.
The second half offered pretty much the same dull menu, with Chelsea looking slightly more threatening as they sought to keep alive their Champions League quest, despite Rafa’s decision to place all his eggs in an Europa League-shaped basket.
The Europa League is at the moment cause of serious indignation in South West London giving the shocking prices that UEFA have slapped on the tickets for the final but, considering the turnout in the away end today, Chelsea fans seem more than comfortable to watch football in a pub or at home – places where some of the current match-goers that currently infest Old Trafford should return to as quickly as possible.
Rooney and Buttner replaced Anderson and Cleverley in a late, half-hearted, attempt to muster something that could at least vaguely resemble a chance – United failed to score at Old Trafford first time after finding the net in 66 Premier League games – but it was the visitors who struck when Mata curled his effort past Lindegaard and into the back of the net.
United, though, were not quite finished and, after being shouldered and elbowed by David Luiz – who had just escaped with a yellow after conducting a personal crusade against Howard Webb – Rafael treated his country-men to a robust and wonderfully delivered kick to the shin, earning himself a red card in the process.
It was the only time the champions had looked alive in 90 minutes.