Sagas at Chelsea have been coming thick and fast of late. Pre-game there appeared to be a sense of relief that the John Terry case had been put to bed and more attention could be paid to the excellent football being played by Chelsea currently. Post-game, anger and pure disbelief were the common emotions, a 3-2 loss felt like daylight robbery assisted by the officials. Again it appears for the wrong Chelsea will be appearing on the front, not back of, every publication in the land. Especially as Clattenburg has now been accused of racism and foul and abusive language towards Chelsea players.
The opening stages, that were officiated to a level expected of Premier League officials, was a huge cause for concern. The 4-2-3-1 formation offers no defence against real wide midfielders and Ashley Cole was often left majorly exposed by marauding runs my Rafael, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young. It was only a matter of time until a real chance was created and after Juan Mata was dispossessed in midfield, Young played in Wayne Rooney whose squared pass to Robin Van Persie resulted in the Dutchman smashing the woodwork. Unfortunately the ball then bounced off the backside of David Luiz and rolled in from 4 yards. Looking back the goal really did sum up the game, an absolute farce.
Amazingly lessons were still not learnt from the opening goal and 12 minutes in Van Persie found the net to make it 2-0. Cole failed to track Valencia who cut inside and fizzed a low, hard ball into the box that came straight into Van Persie’s stride. At the time it looked like there could be a repeat of the Athletico Madrid game in Monaco, a heartless, uninspiring performance.
Thankfully, that wasn’t to be. 20 minutes passed and the Chelsea attack managed to start finding holes in United’s suffocation tactics, intricate passes and delicate flicks started to find feet. A David Luiz free kick forced an unorthodox save from David De Gea and then Cahill went close from a corner when Jonny Evans sliced onto his own post. Eden Hazard became more influential and after battling Rooney for possession, he drew a foul on the edge of the box. Juan Mata stepped up and bent the ball beautifully into the left-hand corner. The Champions of Europe had awoken.
The last few minutes of the half were dominated by Chelsea and ended with Mark Clattenburg making one decision in Chelsea’s favour. A high and reckless challenge from Fernando Torres of Tom Cleverly saw the Spaniard booked whenTorres was lucky to stay on the pitch. Not to worry though, Clattenburg made sure of amending his error later on.
Momentum was carried into the second half and every Chelsea attack looked dangerous. Then finally, on the 52nd minute, Ramires headed home after great play from Mata and Oscar. Chelsea looked hungry and determined, the 10 game unbeaten streak against United at the Bridge appeared strong and about to prosper.
However, the game changed on the 62nd minute. Young was played through and his path crossed that of chasing defender Branislav Ivanovic. The Serbian was unlucky, there wasn’t much he could do about a tangle of legs but he had to go after preventing a goal scoring opportunity.
As it turned out, Ivanovic’s red was merely a warm up to what has largely become the Mark Clattenburg show. On 67 minutes Torres went down after contact from Evans and the curtain came up, cue Clattenburg to take centre stage and give Torres his second yellow for diving. Within seconds Torres had gone from a goal scoring position to the infamous tunnel walk.
Now, the perceived foul by Evans will be a hotly disputed one for time to come. Personally, I think there was contact but not enough to go down and that if Torres had stayed on his feet, he could grabbed another Nou Camp-esque goal. Also, I don’t think Clattenburg would have taken action if his first thought was that Torres had already been booked.
The two-man advantage became significant straight away. With nobody pressuring the United defence more balls were finding their way into midfield and then into the feet of Van Persie, Rooney or Hernandez. Pressure built and Cech was forced into a great low save by Van Persie that he also scrambled off the line, unfortunately the rebound fell to Rafael who smashed the ball into Hernandez’s path and the Mexican tapped in from 4 yards. Replays showed he was a good yard offside but nobody was surprised given the games events. ‘Robbed’ was an apt term to describe the match.
It was an undeserving defeat but surrounding all the furore, there was a great Chelsea performance. Every player gave their all and ultimately lost to circumstances out of their hands. If that standard of performance continues Chelsea will be at the top of the league for a long, long time.