Chelsea and Manchester United faced off at a crucial period in their respective seasons at the Old Trafford where Chelsea haven’t lost in their last 4 matches in the league. Chelsea extended that record to 5 consecutive matches at the Theatre of Dreams tonight but the score-line does not even begin to tell the story about what really unfolded in front of the angry crowd at Old Trafford.
Chelsea started with Hazard as the false nine and Pedro, Willian and Oscar amongst the attacking midfield trio. All four players were extremely fluid and lacked a structure all along the first half while Hazard was the player furthest forward along with Branislav Ivanovic (!!) occasionally over the second half.
In midfield, Matic and Mikel formed the pivot with Fabregas out with a fever and the defence was the recognisable self with Azpilicueta, Terry, Zouma and Ivanovic holding the fort. Azpilicueta and Ivanovic were both allowed freedom to push ahead but only Azpi displayed any prudence in defensive capabilities. Mikel was the deepest midfielder while Matic was given the freest role on the pitch, slotting in wherever the team needed him.
Manchester United also lined up in a 4-2-3-1 where Rooney was restored to the line-up while Mata, Herrera and Martial were the playmakers cum wingers behind him. As usual, the three did not interchange positions much and were given specific sets of tasks to do in their position. Mata and Herrera both played in centrally as Martial was completely shunned to the flanks.
To provide width on the right side of the field, Young was called into action from his Right wingback position while Darmian on the left stayed a full back. Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin were the midfielders for United as Blind and Smalling were the players immediately shielding De Gea.
In the first five minutes, there was an intense Chelsea pressure but without a striker to hold it up, there was chaos as soon as the ball reached the attacking third. Chelsea did not do themselves any favours by pinging the ball long into Eden Hazard as he simply didn’t have the physical capabilities to shield it.
The most important role in the Chelsea team was hence given to the band of three player who simply needed to click again if there was any hope of making the ball reach Hazard. The explosive pace of the number ten was simply not being utilised and hence the pressure was almost dropped to nil as soon as those early moments passed.
Manchester United, meanwhile, played a proactive game in attack and tried combinations instead of singular player prowess. It seemed to work as they hit the post twice over the first half with Mata and Martial the unlucky players. Soon, Chelsea reverted to their famous defensive shape which simply killed off any room for the United players to work with.
The lack of physicality from Chelsea players continued over the first half. A newcomer to the sport might describe the team with fancy words for “scared” and lazy. The disheartening of fans over this lack of commitment was clear. Chelsea were much quicker than United in their transitions though and it is always a threat when such a mobile set of players are present up top but like it was pointed to before, it always turned into chaos as soon as Chelsea reached the attacking third due to extremely poor decision making as well as the expected foul play from Manchester United midfield.
The game really opened up in the second half as both teams had enough chances to wrap up the match over and over but failed to take a single one. Embarrassing misses and brilliant saves lit up the half over which Chelsea were the dominant force for the initial 30 minutes as well as the final 5 plus injury time.
In the second half, Chelsea regained some commitment and physicality and it was clearly visible as Manchester United seemed stunned that the visitors were trying to oppose their hard hitting ways. It still didn’t stem the tide for United’s cynical foul which were coming in with an embarrassing regularity.
Chelsea simply turned their play into “find the open man” for the second half and it worked wonders. It was suddenly a Chelsea capable of creating chances and running into opposing defenders while Hazard regained that dribbling touch and was fouled around by the Red Devils as they simply couldn’t handle him. United meanwhile stuck to their shape and “philosophy” and it ended up disappointing the home fans as no true chances were actually created by their play.
It is simply embarrassing to see two powerhouses of English football relying only on the opposition errors and hopeful crosses to try and create chance. The class difference between the continental powerhouses and the English ones can be clearly seen by these insipid displays.
There were chances galore with Chelsea fashioning a couple of 1v1’s which they either aimed at the keeper or into the top row while Manchester United played the cross-it-and-see game from which United did the same.
The standout moment of the match was provided by Thibaut Courtois who saved Ander Herrera’s tap in from barely 3-4 yards out with an out of the world reactionary save to keep the score 1-1. Of all the attempts on goal, this was the most probable of the. Infact, half the stadium was celebrating as soon as Herrera touched the ball.
It all culminated in a nil-nil draw which is really embarrassing for the strikers and other attacking players involved simply because of the number of chances on offer on both ends of the pitch. The draw is definitely a more valuable one for Chelsea because of their current predicament but it also is the same for United who could’ve easily lost by a couple of goals if Chelsea had finished their chances any better.