Back then, United boasted a superb squad capable of taking on Europe’s finest, while today they crumbled against aChelsea side which, while looking solid, never got out of second gear.
It was hardly surprising to see United falling victims of their own shortcomings in South West London, but it was crushing to see them have the wind knocked out of their sails after a promising start.
Having never beaten Jose Mourinho in the league, David Moyes decided to go all out and picked his best available XI, with Danny Welbeck leading the line and Adnan Januzaj behind him, while Phil Jones returned in midfield alongside Michael Carrick, as Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young patrolled the wings.
Despite the lack of confidence that had accompanied to South West London, United started brightly and almost took the lead within 120 seconds, when Welbeck and Young exchanged passes, only for the former Villa man to fire straight at Peter Cech.
Having controlled the opening 15 minutes of the game, United thought well of sitting back and allowing Chelsea onto them, the hosts’ pressure soon proving decisive as Eto’o took on Phil Jones, who lost his footing and allowed the former Inter man to skip past him, before unleashing a shot that, having been diverted by Michael Carrick’s shin, flew past David De Gea.
Conceding the goal had tragic effects on United, their confidence evaporating in a blink of an eye and not helped by Phil Dowd opting to deny Danny Welbeck a clear penalty after he was brought down by Cesar Azpilicueta and could only fire a tame shot at Cech.
United’s performance turned even worse when, 60 seconds from halftime, Eto’o doubled his team lead after some incredibly poor defending from David Moyes’men, who allowed the cross to get into the area, before leaving Eto’o all the time he needed to steer his finish past De Gea.
What Michael Carrick and Ashley Young were playing at is hard to fathom, but neither was trying to defend to the standard a Premiership footballer is required to match and United went back to the dressing room with a scoreline that didn’t do any justice to their efforts in the first half.
Having conceded twice in the first 45 minutes, United allowed Chelsea in within three minutes in the second half as Willian’s corner was headed towards De Gea, before Valencia stood and observed as Eto’o completed his personal ha-trick with the simplest of finishes.
Quite what United’s back four were looking at, will remain a mystery, for neither Vidic, nor Valencia, Evra or Young were anywhere to be seen as Chelsea tripled their lead, nor did they offer a concrete contribution as Chelsea doubled their advantage.
Smalling and Hernandez replaced Evra and Young, with the Mexican netting United’ s consolation goal, after Jones’ effort had looked to drift wide of the target.
It wasn’t enough to lift United’s spirits, nor was it enough to alleviate the away fans’ torture but, at least, it made the scoreline a little bit more bearable, before Nemanja Vidic was ridiculously sent off for a challenge that was only worth of a yellow card, while Rafael should have suffered the opposite fate but, somehow, escaped punishment.
As they say, when it rains, it pours.