1. Let’s be fair
I posted an article in preparation of this clash lamenting the age old cliché that luck evens itself out over the course of the season. While I still disagree with that, today was a day in which luck evened itself out over the course of 90 minutes. United fans will inevitably point fingers at Mike Dean for not awarding United a penalty for a foul on Ji Sung Park in the first half. But Chelsea themselves can afford to be upset at Dean for not awarding a penalty for Gary Neville’s shoulder barge on Nicolas Anelka minutes later. Dean may well have found himself under pressure after Blackburn’s Matin Olsson admitted to diving in last weekend’s fixture with Burnley, also officiated by Dean, as he knew the referee was prone to awarding penalties. Drogba’s goal was also unfairly allowed – he was clearly offside – but seeing as Kiko Macheda steered in his goal with his arm minutes later, United cannot allow themselves to feel hard done by.
2. Let down by the old guard
It was a rare combined start for Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville today. With a combined haul of 28 league titles between them, one can understand Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to go with experience, but it backfired today. Giggs and Scholes were guilty of an abundance of misplaced passes, and the game seemed to pass them by at times as Chelsea passed their way around the midfield. Gary Neville’s crossing – for so long an impressive feature of his full back bombardment down the right side – was poor. He put in some crunching tackles to spur on the crowd, but unfortunately that’s where Neville’s contribution ended. He can count himself lucky to have not conceded penalty for his rash tackle on Anelka in the first half. Nani and Macheda combined for United’s goal towards the end, and generally showed a much higher degree of keenness than the old guard did throughout the match.
3. With or without Roo
Expect the tabloids to point to a lack of Wayne Rooney as the catalyst for United’s downfall, but what we saw today was worryingly similar to what we saw in Munich on Tuesday night – where Rooney played for 90 minutes. The England striker’s absence cannot be used as an excuse for Ryan Giggs’ constant surrender of possession, nor can it be used as an excuse for Paul Scholes’ numerous overhit “Hollywood passes”. United have been poor on their own merit for the past 2 games now, and that’s got nothing to do with Wayne Rooney.
4. Dimi a break!
There’s no doubt that people will be lining up to have a pop at Dimitar Berbatov for his failure to lead the line today, but in truth, the Bulgarian could have done very little to change the outcome of today’s match. He had 2 half chances – a header at pace in the first half that fizzed past Petr Cech’s left hand post, and a waist high volley which he drove into the ground late in the second half. There will be unfair criticism of Berbatov after today, but there’s only so much you can expect from a player being played out of position. He is not a striker that leads the line. He is far more comfortable behind a talisman such as Rooney, but up front you can only expect a performance from him akin to a centre back playing at full back, or a full back playing as a winger. It’s just not his natural position. And I refuse to acknowledge his price tag as an ingredient of his criticism – Spurs, similar to Lyon, are a stubborn club when it comes to letting their key players go (and so they have every right to be) and are very good at getting top dollar for those players.
5. Malou-da’s my boy!
You may have been chastised for saying it last Christmas, but Florent Malouda is fast becoming one Chelsea’s most important players. He has followed up a stellar end to last season with an excellent season, and he was key yet again today. He was at the heart of almost everything Chelsea offered up front, and while his assist for Joe Cole’s goal may be more down to the United defence’s reluctance to put in a challenge, he had the confidence to take them on in the first place. It’s this confidence that makes Malouda the player he is, and he is now one of Carlo Ancelotti’s first names on the teamsheet – which may explain why Joe Cole may just struggle to get the contract he wants this summer.
6. It’s a squad game
Strength in depth changed the game today. Whereas United had to bring on 18 year old Kiko Macheda and Darron Gibson when they were chasing the game, Chelsea were able to bring on 30 goals worth of Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack to freshen things up. And it payed off, as Drogba grabbed the goal that put the game out of reach for United. Sir Alex Ferguson has been justified in his decision to bring in Michael Owen at the start of the season – the strikers return for his free price tag has been more than acceptable. But Owen’s fitness has always counted against him – and when key talisman Wayne Rooney got injured, United had to choose between playing Berbatov out of position, or a teenage Macheda who is just back from injury. While this was not their undoing, it made getting back into the game all the more difficult.
7. Advantage Chelsea
A riveting title race took yet another twist today, as it is now Chelsea who occupy the driving seat. Carlo Ancelotti’s men are now 2 ahead of United. With both teams having similar remaining fixtures, the title may just come down to two games – United at City and Chelsea at Liverpool. Deciding who’s task is more difficult will divide opinion, but with Ancelotti’s side having a superior goal difference and no extra curricular distractions in the form of the Champions League, it’s definitely advantage Chelsea.