On a crisp Sunday afternoon Jose Mourinho extended his league record at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea defeated Manchester United 3-1. All the focus pre-match was on Chelsea and their pursuit of Wayne Rooney but a different striker stole the show. With Manchester United missing Rooney and Robin van Persie Samuel Eto’o grabbed the headlines with a superbly taken hat-trick.
The first half was very much Manchester United’s in the sense that they were the dominant of possession and largely had the better of the chances. They started brightly and really took the game to Chelsea with Adnan Januzaj leading the way. It says much for United’s current predicament that their main attacking outlet was a mere teenager but in arguably the biggest game of his career he stepped up to the plate.
The youngster was deployed alongside Danny Welbeck in a 4-4-2 and at times he was the more advanced of the pair. He caused some uncertainty in the Chelsea backline but he was often left frustrated at the lack of support. His best moment of the first half was when he slipped through Ashley Young, himself a surprise inclusion, but Petr Cech parried the England winger’s shot.
Chelsea stuck with a 4-2-3-1, resisting the urge to go with a more defensive 4-3-3 and Jose Mourinho sprung a surprise with Samuel Eto’o starting ahead of the in-form Torres. It paid off with the Cameroonian international making the breakthrough after 17 minutes. Against the run of play Eto’o picked the ball up on the right, sold Phil Jones the dummy and unleashed a shot with his left foot. David De Gea wasn’t helped by the deflection the shot took off Michael Carrick’s ankle as he tried to block the shot.
Despite the goal Manchester United kept up their early intensity and they went close with a scuffed chance from Danny Welbeck. Chelsea stayed solid and United weren’t overly close despite Januzaj consistently impressing. Then at the end of the half following a half-cleared corner Chelsea extended their lead. United failed to properly get out of their own box and when the ball was fired back across the box Eto’o was completely unmarked to poke home a second. It was a hammer blow to United who could have crept back into it had the deficit just been the one at the interval.
After Chelsea scored the third goal they became very sloppy both in possession and defence. It was if a touch of complacency had crept into the team’s mentality and it showed with United continuing to press and create chances. A poor touch from Cech almost let Hernandez in to score but the big goalkeeper recovered with admirable composure even if his actions didn’t go down well with his manager.
Hernandez did get his goal though by poking in a Phil Jones cross/shot. Chelsea tried to shut down the game by bringing on John Obi Mikel and then Nemanja Matic for his second Chelsea debut. The game ended on a sour note late on with two controversial incidents. First Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic was sent off following a late tackle on Eden Hazard. It was a cynical challenge from the big Serbian but it didn’t look like a red. However in the final seconds of the match Rafael went flying into Gary Cahill and was only given a booking. The Brazilian went in two-footed and off the floor and it was arguably a far more dangerous challenge than the one that saw Vidic sent off. Phil Dowd had a poor game in general and he seemed to have lost control towards the end but luckily none of his decisions affected the outcome of the game.
Samuel Eto’o was the obvious choice for man of the match but Willian and Hazard were both impressive as well. Their direct running and dribbling was a real problem for the Manchester United full-backs and they showed why they’ve become the main men in recent weeks.
The result leaves Manchester United 14 points off league leaders Arsenal and 12 points behind their hosts for today. The Blues have kept pace with Arsenal and Manchester City, both of whom won yesterday, but Liverpool’s draw means the gap between Chelsea and Brendan Rodgers’ side has extended to six points.