Chelsea’s late title charge went up in smoke after just 36 seconds at Old Trafford, and as if to add further insult, one of our new cult favourites was to blame.
David Luiz was all over the place trying to cover the run of Javier Hernandez; being drawn to the ball, then being the wrong side of the Mexican who strolled through to give United the lead.
It was a shambolic beginning to what was supposed to be the biggest game of the season, but much like the Champions League quarter-final, when the chips were down the Blues didn’t turn up.
Yes, Frank Lampard did give Carlo Ancelotti hope in the second half, and in general the champions were much improved, but it wasn’t difficult given the display in the opening 45 minutes.
Vidic was able to add to Hernandez’s early goal; climbing above Ivanovic after a United short corner routine, and if we’re all brutally honest that shouldn’t have been United’s last goal of the afternoon.
Unlike the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal we’ll put our hands up and say when we’ve been beaten by the better side, but it doesn’t get rid of the bitter taste left in the mouth by such a lifeless showing from arguably Chelsea’s strongest starting XI, in a game of huge importance.
In midfield Chelsea looked laboured and short of ideas and initiative, with the likes of Lampard and Essien, even when they did evade the enthusiasm of Park and Carrick, unable to really spark the visitors into life.
Ashley Cole came off second best for the first time in well over 2 years as Valencia twisted and turned beyond him.
The opening 20 minutes played a huge part in Chelsea’s downfall, as the relentlessness of United’s attacking seemed to stun John Terry and co, and even the real battlers of the side like Ivanovic and JT himself seemed overwhelmed by the occasion, with Petr Cech being forced into 2 brilliant saves after efforts from distance by Park and Rooney.
Ancelotti had to make changes at the interval and Luiz and Mikel paid the price for their poor displays with Alex and Ramires sent on. Of course it must be pointed out that both men withdrawn are still in their early 20s and Sunday will be a valuable experience for both.
Torres was introduced with 25 minutes to go and the Spaniard had a couple of half sights of goal before and after Lampard brought Chelsea back into it, as only he can do.
Some brilliant last ditch defending from Alex prevented Rooney adding a third for United, the Brazilian sprawling in front of the United front man who had an open goal at his mercy.
But whilst the Lampard goal had suddenly introduced nerves to Old Trafford, the home side looked just as likely to score again on the counter as The Blues tried to lay siege on Van Der Sar’s goal.
In the end there was no grandstand finish, no Torres brace in the last 10 minutes to stun United and complete the greatest of all Premier League comebacks. Indeed, Chelsea’s resurgence should still remain one of the best, given that the champions found themselves in 5th place and 15 points behind United on March 1st. Yet 2 months later had the chance to overhaul them at the top of the Premier League.
Ancelotti and his side had been written off by everyone, even Champions League qualification was thrown into doubt. The fight back was admirable, but in the end just a fraction too far.
So, whilst this report is laced with bitterness and frustration at the first half showing today, hopefully the character shown in the preceding games will help calm calls for drastic overhaul on the Fulham Road. Evolution is needed, not revolution.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cole, Luiz (Alex 46), Terry, Essien, Lampard, Mikel (Ramires 46), Malouda, Drogba, Kalou (Torres 61)
Man United: Van Der Sar, Ferdinand, Vidic, Fabio (Smalling 88), O’Shea (Evans 46), Giggs, Park, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, Hernandez