Man Utd claim their first league win at Stamford Bridge in 10 years with a 3-2 victory which barely tells any of the story.
This was a game with two early goals which altered the dynamic of the game followed by a rousing comeback and ending with a number of controversial decisions by the match officials.
The key point from a tactical perspective was Man Utd’s exploitation of the weakness in the Chelsea set up with poor cover for the full backs. This aided the creation of both goals and led to other chances being created by Man Utd.
With Lampard not fit for selection, Di Matteo had a relatively straightforward job naming his starting line up:-
Chelsea lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. The attacking trio of Hazard, Mata and Oscar offer tremendous creativity behind the lone striker of Fernando Torres but questions have been asked about their ability to fulfill their defensive duties.
The temptation to continue with the midfield diamond was resisted and Man Utd named what appeared to be a 4-4-2 formation. In the attacking phase, Young and Rooney pushed on before dropping back and becoming a 4-1-4-1 in the defensive phase.
The two early goals for Man Utd occurred before there was any time to assess how both teams were shaping up. The result was a highly entertaining game with a mix of technical ability and defensive errors.
This was a game which can be divided into three 30 minute periods.
0-30 Minutes – Man Utd Take Control
Although the game was still settling down in the opening few minutes, Man Utd were content to drop off Chelsea when Luiz or Cahill had possession but press as the ball approached the halfway line.
After 3 minutes, Man Utd scored the opening goal. A forward pass towards Mata was intercepted by Ferdinand allowing the nearby Rooney to collect the ball and turn and pass to Young who was centrally positioned in the middle of the Chelsea half and in space.
As can be seen in the graphic below, the centre back pairing of Cahill and Luiz had split wide open. A Chelsea player, most probably Mikel, should have moved deeper to offer an added degree of protection but he was too high. This, combined with Ivanovic being stationed at the halfway line to provide the necessary width and nobody was tracking the inward diagonal run of Young which enabled Man Utd to construct their opening goal.
Young returned the ball to Rooney who provided the assist from Van Persie via a cut back. Despite getting men back into the penalty area, nobody was marking Van Persie. The goal had a large slice of luck with the initial strike rebounding from the post, back onto Luiz and then into the net.
The second goal was a disaster from a defensive perspective for Chelsea.
Although there are concerns over how Chelsea regain their shape in transitions especially when the attacking trident are so fluid, that complaint cannot be levelled here. There was ample time from De Gea taking the short goal kick to Ferdinand to the ball being played forward to Rafael for Chelsea to regain their shape.
Hazard failed to get goal side of Rafael during the move but was tracking him closely as can be seen in the graphic below. Hazard is just a yard or so behind Rafael as they entered the Chelsea half of the pitch. This action makes the decision of Cole to step out toward Rafael, freeing Valencia in the process, highly questionable.
Once the ball was played to Valencia, he was pursued by David Luiz who could have closed Valencia down quicker but provided enough space for the Man Utd winger to drill in a low cross. The resulting cross was converted by Van Persie for his and Utd’s second goal.
With Man Utd taking a 2-0 lead, the onus was on Chelsea to take the initiative. They struggled at first as Utd dropped back into a 4-1-4-1 formation with Carrick operating as the deepest midfielder and Cleverly and Rooney ahead in central midfield.
Chelsea were unable to gain any real fluency with short passing through a clogged central area and it was noticeable how Torres was moving wide in an attempt to find space. Utd were content to absorb pressure and try and exploit the space on the flanks particularly with both Cole and Ivanovic pushing high to offer width for Chelsea.
Man Utd were able to dictate the tempo of the game at this stage with assured passing when they had possession and by controlling space when they were without the ball.
Whilst this worked well initially, Cleverly lost possession on a few occasions and his pass completion rate of just 76% was below the team average withonly Van Persie (74%) and De Gea (60%) having lower levels of pass completion. Despite operating in central midfield for much of the game, Rooney undertook just 1 tackle (which he won) during the course of the game. Of greater consequence was the ground duel which he lost to Oscar and rashly tripped him which provided Chelsea with a free kick prior to half time.
Next Page: 31-60 Minutes – Questions Asked – Chelsea Answer & 61-90 Minutes Red Cards
31-60 Minutes – Question Asked, Chelsea Answer
If the first 30 minutes was about Man Utd asking a questions, the next 30 minutes would be about Chelsea answering it emphatically.
Around the 30 minute mark, Chelsea began to ask more serious questions of Man Utd. Until this point in time, Man Utd were dealing comfortably with Chelsea’s attacks which tended to fizzle out. Chelsea would now have a period of sustained pressure, forcing the Man Utd defence to drop deeper. The duo of Ramires and Mikel were pushing higher up the pitch and forcing Utd’s central midfield pairing to move deeper. As important as this positional shift was, the higher tempo and accuracy of Chelsea’s passing was now having an impact. Oscar was becoming increasingly prominent as was Mata. Short, sharp passes were finding their target.
The rash challenge by Rooney in the 43rd minute enable Juan Mata to add to his recent run of 4 goals and 5 assists in his last 5 games with a sublimely struck free kick.
The half time interval failed to stabilise Man Utd and the second half commenced in almost the same vein as the first half had ended. Chelsea were setting the agenda, playing at a high tempo and forcing Utd back.
The equalising goal arrived when Oscar floated a lovely ball over the Utd defence for Mata to collect. Although he was forced wide, the ball was eventually returned to the middle and Ramires headed home Chelsea ’s second goal.
At this stage, in the ascendency, it appeared that Chelsea would push on and take the game to Man Utd, seeking the winner but as is so often the case with teams who recover from a deficit, whether it is from choice or simply the exertions involved in drawing level, Chelsea allowed the tempo to drop and Man Utd regrouped and stabilised.
61-90 Minutes – Red Cards
The key moment in the third period arrived when Cahill was easily turned by Van Persie at the halfway line. Should Cahill have challenged Van Persie there? Should Mikel or Ramires have picked up Van Persie when he dropped that deep allowing Cahill to remain in position?
Evading the challenge, Van Persie was able to pass forward to Young who was again positioned centrally and had stolen a start ahead of Ivanovic who would trip his opponent just outside of the penalty area and receive a red card.
With the dismissal of Ivanovic, Di Matteo introduced Azpilicueta to fill in at right back as the side moved to a 4-4-1 formation. Just as importantly, Man Utd made a substitution withdrawing Cleverly and introducing Hernandez as the side switched to a straightforward 4-4-2 in an effort to gain a winning goal. As well as signalling Utd’s attacking intent, it created another problem for the Chelsea rearguard with two strikers central now to occupy Cahill and Luiz.
Following the dismissal of Torres, Man Utd should have controlled the match with a two-man advantage and although Chelsea did not create any real opportunities, they did make life much more difficult for Man Utd than it should have been. Man Utd failed to regain the composure they had shown in that opening period.
Bertrand was introduced for Mata to provide better defensive cover on the left side as Chelsea attempted the almost impossible task of successfully defending and then attacking with just 9 players on the pitch. The withdrawal of Rooney by Ferguson was more about ensuring Utd kept all 11 players on the park given the fact he had already been cautioned in the first half.
How does Di Matteo view the game?
It’s three points dropped and he must be concerned about the defensive problems which allowed Man Utd to race into a two goal lead but equally he must be delighted with the manner in which his players responded and drew level before the sending offs which unquestionably tipped the balance back into Man Utd’s favour.
The concern remains over the regrouping of his team during transitions. The three creative midfielders of Hazard, Mata and Oscar offer considerable potential during the attacking phase of the game but this may need to be tempered against higher quality opposition. If Lampard is fit, Ramires can be deployed higher up the pitch to help provide the necessary balance. It’s a similar story in the Man Utd corner also. Accentuate the positives whilst internally addressing the negatives.
There will still be questions asked over Manchester United in the defensive and middle thirds of the pitch. As Ferguson himself admitted, the side “lost their way” as the first half progressed. The team desperately need Darren Fletcher to return to full fitness and provide the midfield runner which Ferguson favours in the central area.
But United have considerable strength in the attacking third of the pitch and just like Chelsea, are still seeking to address the right balance.