Flashback to 2006. The month was April, if my memory serves me right. United were in with a chance — the minutest there may be, if any — of staging a miracle comeback to win the title. The task was always going to be improbable. Impossible, even. We had a sizeable point deficit with the league leaders Chelsea, who were in their peak, impenetrable days. We lost 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea ran away with the title.
What was I thinking anyway; our midfield had Giggs and O’Shea!
The details escape me, but the margin of defeat hurts to this day. I always craved for the day we would humiliate them similarly. True, we beat them 2-0 in Avram Grant’s first game in charge, but that was 11 against 10 — Mikel’s red card mitigated the level of joy I’d have got.
But not yesterday. And we had Giggs and Fletcher in midfield. Of course, I had reservations about that selection but more on that later.
Fergie’s formation this season has been fairly predictable. He’s reverted to 4-4-2 unlike the more fluid formations of last season. I was befuddled with Giggsy’s selection. In pre-match talk Fergie went on about how Giggs seemed to get ‘better with age’, and indulged in showering praise on his old guard in a way we’ve grown accustomed to. The only difference this time being he meant every word of it. Or at least we saw what he meant, when he said the things he did about Giggsy, when the match played out.
The match, however, started in a way that was expected — cagey, both teams erring, passes going astray etc. And I was afraid that United’s lack of creativity shown in the past few weeks against lesser defences might prove to be their achilles heel. Moreover, Rio’s absence against a top side will always be a cause for worry. Yet, we created chances in the first half, while Chelsea with all the big names in the centre of the park, couldn’t do much of note. Which leads me to the next thing.
How absolutely shocking were Chelsea?! Now this is not to take anything from United’s victory, but I haven’t seen a more toothless Chelsea side. No, sorry, scratch that. I haven’t seen a more meek Chelsea side than this. They are generally boring to watch but when they go behind you can always count on them to show some heart and bounce back. This Chelsea side went down rather easily without much of a fight. And the defending! Oh my! Schoolboy stuff. Little wonder we scored all goals from set pieces.
Regarding the first disallowed goal, I am not sure if the kick taker is supposed to tell anything to the linesman, so I wouldn’t go into it. Suffice to say, if United planned it as a training ground exercise, then they ought to have known the rules regarding letting the linesman know before taking the kick. This would certainly be a talking point had that disallowed goal been precious, but we scored immediately from the ensuing re-kick, so all’s well.
A word on the crowd which was absolutely mental. Since I watched it from my living room I’m not in a position to judge, but I think this might have been the loudest our fans have sung since the semi-final against Barcelona. Season ticket holders, feel free to correct me on this. Kudos to the lads who froze their arses off in the terraces.
Another major talking point of the game, which got swept under the rug thanks to the result was the treatment meted out to Ronaldo. He had an excellent game, first of all. But I was livid when I saw the way Carvalho was tugging at his shirt only to see the ref give Ronaldo a talking to and award Carvalho (and Chelsea) a free kick. Ridiculous, and it’s stuff like this that makes players with footballing ability lose their trust in referees.
A very moving moment in the game was when the ‘Argentina’ chants gathered steam as Carlos Tevez warmed up along the touchline. The player applauded the fans’ continued support and it’s stuff like this that remind us how special our club is. I thought it might have been a nice touch to reward Tevez with some game time when we were already in cruise control.
This game has also been about incidents leading up to it. The Tevez contract rumours, John Terry’s ‘homecoming’ following his Moscow heroics, Evra’s return from his four match ban [which, of course, has a strong Chelsea connection] or something as recent as Benitez’s rant against Fergie — everything was brought up during the match at varying stages.
On individual performances, Park had a stormer defensively, and while he’s not the best when an open goal presents itself, he does other things that is absolutely crucial in games like these. Countless interceptions, persistence chasing lost causes, and work rate as good as anyone in modern football. And he was also good going forward. Evra made a much welcome return to the team and he proved his freshness with his relentless bursts of pace forging ahead. In fact, we seemed to miss that impetus he gives us on the left in December. His cross for our second goal was laser guided in it’s trajectory, with due credit to Ronaldo’s umpteenth back heel.
Rio’s absence has come as a boon for Jonny Evans. The young centre back was facing his greatest test in a United shirt against a certain Didier Drogba who’s known to wreck careers of fledgling defenders — ask Senderos. The clean sheet will give him confidence like no other game. But more importantly, he had a Serbian master by his side, to show him the way.
Which brings us to Nemanja Vidic. He was my man of the match by a mile, regardless of Giggs’ performance. This was perhaps Vidic’s best game of his United career. He’s known to be non-compromising in his defending. But yesterday he was the whole package. His reading of the game, tackling, organising of the defence and distribution was flawless. He’s had a stormer of a season already, but he’s taken up the mantle in Rio’s absence and, alongside an able deputy in Evans, our defence is in safe hands. A masterclass in defending from the Serb. And he’s been as good this season as Rio was last season. It’s reassuring to see our defence holding up despite Rio’s absence.
Overall though, it must be said that we won’t be afforded the kind of space we had yesterday, against opposition like Wigan and Bolton. January is a big month for us, and all these wins count for nothing if we can’t win against the lesser sides. Wigan is up next, and they are a side to be taken seriously. Brucey’s built a very good side that’s the right mix of graft and inventiveness. So Wednesday and Saturday will be good measures of how much our side has turned the corner. Bolton and Wigan will test us. Interesting times ahead, if you are a United fan. Not sure if I can say the same about Fat Spanish Waiters.
We’ll never die.
And just to remind those living under a rock the past few hours, congratulations Ronaldo on your own personal treble! So now that you’ve won everything I suppose it’s time for you to head off to Spain, eh? I kid, I kid.
Another announcement for those not aware, the writing competition is still on, and I still welcome entries. I have received some and will post them in the coming days, when time and space provides. Those of you interested, click here to read details about how to go about posting your pieces to the Red Rants writing competition.