Today was a cagey and intelligent game of chess that played itself into an unfortunate but deserved draw. Despite the hard work and highly professional effort by Wayne Rooney United could not find that magical moment in the box that would break the deadlock and to be honest, both clubs were reduced to nothing more than half chances and hand ball let offs for Chelsea. Two blatant hand balls in the box were not called against Chelsea and that just seems typical considering I cannot remember the last time Chelsea have ever given up a hand ball penalty, especially to United. I’m sure they have but they never get their just punishment. Lampard’s handball especially was blatantly awful and unfortunately unjust. As for the match as a whole, let me call this segment the good, the bad and the ugly.
How better to begin than to stand up and give kudos and an “A” for effort to Wayne Rooney. Today Wazza answered a lot of his critics when it comes to his professionalism and commitment while he is a United player. I still don’t think he is happy to be here but he was at least determined to give a good accounting of himself if not for his club, then for Jose Mourinho. This in a sense was an audition for both clubs. Rooney showed some pride and through his performance gave something back to the club that has been so good to him for almost ten years. Whether he stays or not, he did two things that were vital for United. First he showed that irregardless of everything off the pitch, he is committed to give his all in games and secondly, if he still wants a move to Chelsea, well he just justified a reason for United to demand a Hell of a lot more than 25 million quid for him. He may not have scored a goal but he was enthusiastic, tenacious and totally committed on and off the ball all evening and outside of a few stray passes was for me the man of the match. Well done Wayne. I’m calling off my attack dogs for now.
As for the other positives, I thought the club’s work ethic was very strong. Committed to every ball and tackle and never gave Chelsea an inch in our third of the pitch. Our midfield controlled the match and made Chelsea’s all-star midfield look rather pedestrian for the first 70 minutes. They didn’t create much but defensively they were very good, especially Carrick. Our back four was also sublime and quite exceptional throughout the match. Jones did well in his marking duties and Rio, Vidic and Evra all turned back the club to give outstanding defensive performances that gave Chelsea nothing more than speculative half chances that seemed to always go right straight to David De Gea who for the most part was steady but not really tested severely.
As for David Moyes, the grade for today is a “B+”. Did he out coach Mourinho? Well many might think he did although I don’t. Moyes by no means lost the confrontation but Mourinho came to this match with conservative notions and considering United also never really created much in term of full chances, he has to be considered successful in his intent. Moyes did however do a great job in preparing the club tactically and made sure that the players played their roles defensively while keeping their shape. Still the club has a lot of work to do to find that creative edge in the attacking third against stiff competition. This was a home game after all and so a little more attacking pressure would have been expected. David Moyes showed me that he belongs. United doesn’t miss a thing with him in charge. What they do miss are the same things they were missing with Fergie but more on that later. The Chess match was a draw but if I were scoring it like a boxing match, I’d call it 55-45 for United. They were for me the better and hungrier team on the night.
The players for me who get the highest grades out of ten tonight are as follows; Rooney 8/10, Evra 8/10, Vidic 8/10 Carrick 8/10. None of them created any goals but their overall player and commitment was excellent. I also give high marks but no grade to Ashley Cole simply because he never played enough minutes. He showed a great commitment to force the play, attack his marker and delivered a couple of sublime crosses that were very close calls. For me he was a mini revelation because when he came into the game, I honestly expected nothing. He impressed me enough to make me wonder if he shouldn’t get the start at RMF next match.
The performance of the team was quite good and the work ethic was outstanding but there were still some bad moments and performances that need to be looked at. First off let me say that the Referee Martin Atkinson was tonight at least nothing short of a muppet. Too many yellow card style fouls not punished, too many yellows given for nothing and four handballs by Chelsea not called while the one he did call wasn’t. Nothing cheeses my hide more than a bad referee. And like I said before, the cheaters of Chelsea, and they are legendary, always seem to get away with murder when playing top teams.
I will not get dug in and discuss the performances that disappointed me. For me the worst player on the pitch for both clubs was Danny Welbeck. Unfortunately tonight Danny reverted to the Welbeck I had often screamed at Fergie to sell off for a few Big Macs and some curly fries. His lackadaisical dilly-dallying on the ball is infuriating and his unwillingness to get dirty and make a tackle also annoys me. But that open sitting header opportunity he had late in the match that he never even got close to the goal was just embarrassing not to mention the setup from Wayne in the box earlier that he floated over the bar. In this game he reverted to the lad who seems to be half asleep at the wheel and his finishing was comical. Just one game so I am not going to panic but Danny needs to show up better for big matches like this and not just against the Wigan’s and Swansea’s of the world. And could people please tell me where is Chicharito? Seriously.
Other disappointments for me were Antonio Valencia and Tom Cleverley. Cleverley did his job defensively so he was not totally but he is lacking confidence on the ball. On two occasions he had the ball just outside of the box and didn’t even take a look at a shot nor did he spot two players open for a through ball. Instead he one touched the ball to safe spot as if it were on fire. In fact, all game long the ball was like a hot potato to him and he wanted nothing to do with it. When he finally had a chance to shoot and he took it, he made a meal of a great chance. I don’t want to be negative but he was a perfect example of that one missing ingredient in our midfield, polished offensive skills with a confidence to distribute bravely. Still, I was glad Moyes was brave enough to start him and help him build his confidence instead of starting Giggs.
Tony Valencia on the other hand infuriated me all night the way Welbeck did. There were times he ran hard and times he seemed to static but his passes and deliveries into the box were horrible, even on counters where we caught Chelsea thin. He never delivered a quality cross all evening and Ashley Young delivered two in his first few minutes on the pitch. Valencia also seems to have lost a step or that final burst to get past a marker, and when he does, he just wastes the finishing ball. I think now is the time to bloody Wilfried Zaha. He might not track back as well as Tony but I think he offers much more in the attacking zone.
One other bad moment in the match where we got away with one was when Schurlle hit the crossbar but was deemed offside. On that play Evra made his one blunder for the evening getting caught up high and tight.
What can I say, there wasn’t anything ugly other than Atkinson’s Muppet show. Sure Welbeck and Valencia sucked but they were far from ugly.
Inclosing, I have to say that the match was disappointing in that there were no goals but the result was fair and for David Moyes, it was encouraging because he showed that in managing a very big side, he could match chess move with chess move against a great manager like Jose Mourinho. In fairness to Mourinho, it is not easy to play attacking football without a true striker and all I can say is I hope that continues for you Jose. We weren’t perfect. As usual we were too cute and hesitant in the attacking zone, lacked really good movement off the ball, our wingers sucked and we never created enough solid scoring chances but we still played well because we were organized, solid in defence and stuck in and ready to tackle and hustle all game. Well done Dave. Not a win but a moral victory nonetheless. Keep up the solid work and hopefully you will shock me and pull a rabbit or two out of your hat before the transfer window closes to really solidify and improve this hard working and efficient team you are developing.