Chelsea FC 2-1 Manchester United FC: MATCH REVIEW

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Fernando Torres of Chelsea challenges Nemanja Vidic of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on March 1, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Chelsea FC came from behind at Stamford Bridge to defeat Manchester United FC 2-1 on Tuesday evening in Barclays Premier League play. Wayne Rooney cracked a near-post 25 yard wonder-strike past Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Cech to open the scoring in the first half and United were deservingly in the lead. David Luiz then equalised for the home side in the 54th minute when Michael Essien sent in a cross that found Branislav Ivanovic's head for a flick-on; the Brazilian center-back then fired a half-volley past United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar into the bottom corner. Just eight minutes after coming on as a substitute in the 71st minute, Yuri Zhirkov made a run into the box and was brought down by United center-back Chris Smalling. Frank Lampard then hammered home the penalty to put Chelsea ahead for good. To make matters worse, United skipper Nemanja Vidic was sent off in stoppage time after being booked for a second time and the Serbian defender will now miss the trip to Anfield on Sunday when United clash with bitter rival Liverpool FC. This game was exceptional and open; one that will be memorable to Chelsea supporters and neutrals, but it is one that United and it's supporters would like to soon forget. 

OPENING LINEUPS and FORMATIONS:

Chelsea came out in a '4-4-2' shape. Luiz and John Terry were the center-back pairing, and they were flanked in defense by Ivanovic on the right and Ashley Cole on the left. Michael Essien paired Lampard in the central midfield, with the former playing deeper and the latter having more freedom to get forward into the attack. Ramires played narrow in the right midfield and Florent Malouda was tasked out to the left flank. Fernando Torres was deployed in ausual striker role and Nicolas Anelka played off of him in a slightly deeper role. Cech was in goal.

United played in a '4-2-3-1' shape, but it could also be recognized as a '4-4-1-1' shape as well. For the first time in 167 matches, manager Sir Alex Ferguson went with the exact same starting XI in two consecutive matches as this was the same lineup that defeated Wigan Athletic 0-4 on Saturday at the DW Stadium. Vidic and Smalling were the center-back pairing and they were joined in defense by Patrice Evra to the left and John O'Shea to the right. Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick were in the central midfield as double pivots. Nani was deployed on the left flank and played high up the pitch. Darren Fletcher played on the opposite side, but the Scot played a bit more narrow and deeper. Rooney played off of Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez up top, as the Mexican striker was chosen to start over the Premier League's leading goal-scorer Dimitar Berbatov. Rooney linked play between midfield and attack while Chicharito stretched the Chelsea defense. 

It all looked a little like this...

A tactical breakdown of the match after the jump... 

1ST HALF:

* There was a frenetic start to this game. Chelsea initially played with a slightly high line and high up the pitch, they were pressing United. This is beginning to become a trend versus the Reds as perhaps opposing managers feel that United struggle versus pressure. It also likely was used by Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti because he had a fresh squad that didn't play a match this past weekend while United had played just three days prior. However, both Scholes and Carrick did well swinging the ball around and United dominated possession this half. The two center-mids were fantastic in the opening. Also, Chelsea began to back off a bit after the opening 15 minutes. Furthermore, the high line deployed began to retreat as United looked threatening on the counter. The pace of Terry and Ivanovic had the risk of being exposed by the speedy Chicharito and Nani, so this retreat made sense. 

* As the backline retreated a bit, there was quite a bit of space in between the midfield and defense. Lampard was getting forward into the attack and his partner Essien wasn't playing any sort of holding role. Rooney began to exploit this vacant space and he did well to link up play for United. Because of Rooney exploiting that space and with Scholes/Carrick dictating play in midfield, United were the better side this half. 

* Chicharito was quiet throughout the match but his main contribution was stretching the defense, thus allowing Rooney the space that was just previously mentioned. 

* On Rooney's goal, Luiz and Ivanovic failed to close down on Wazza because of the concern with Chicharito and Nani. Lampard was slightly too high up the pitch and he failed to close down the space as well. Once again, Rooney found himself with space and the striker was able to take full advantage with his thunderous near-post strike past a poorly positioned Cech. Opta pointed out during the match that this was Rooney's first goal outside of the box in Premier League play since 2008 versus Newcastle

* Ramires' narrow positioning exposed his right-back Ivanovic; this allowed Nani to go at him one-on-one for much of the match. The Portuguese winger was threatening, but likely could have made more of this mismatch, as Ivanovic was clearly struggling. However, Luiz was doing well to provide cover whenever Nani tried to cut in onto his stronger right-foot. 

* Luiz was doing well in the early going and did well to defend Rooney when they clashed. A good match-up between two very good players.

* Fletcher once again put in a solid and industrious effort, this time on the right flank. Cole was getting forward quite a bit in the early going, but he was forced to retreat and essentially only defend for the rest of the match when Fletcher began to pin him back. A very solid match for the Scot but my only criticism of him is that he wasn't able to provide any incisive passes to unlock the defense. Fletcher is okay making the simple pass, but he struggles to provide any meaningful balls over 20-25 yards. But I would say he got the best of his match-up with the rifleman Cole. 

* When Cole stopped going forward, Chelsea had very little width. Malouda would start in wide positions, but then would tuck inside when Chelsea were in attack. Ramires was very much in a narrow right-midfield role on his side. Ivanovic was pinned by Nani. 

* Lampard was very quiet this half and didn't do much at all to influence the match. Essien was better and the Ghanian was able to move the ball about. However, neither took over the midfield and perhaps this is why Chelsea wasn't very threatening from open play. Their best chance in the first half was off a set piece where van der Sar made three saves during a scrum in the box.

2ND HALF:

* No changes to begin the half; no subs, tactics shifts, or formation changes

* Chelsea began the half with the run of play and this never really changed for the half. As good as United were in the first half, Chelsea were just as good in this half, if not better. Scholes and Carrick lost their influence in this half and I'm not entirely sure why. Chelsea did seem invigorated this half, but they also started the first half with lots of pressure. Perhaps Scholes and Carrick fatigued a bit due to playing three days ago? This very well could be the case for the 36 year-old Scholes and he was subbed off halfway through the 2nd half.

* Luiz got Chelsea level in the 54th minute. Off a failed corner, Essien sent in a cross to Ivanovic who was able to win his aeriel battle and flick on to Luiz who smashed home a half volley. Evra was very solid throughout the match but he gaffed on this play. He was far too central in his marking as United already had defenders in the area where Evra was patrolling. Evra should have positioned himself out wider and then Luiz would have never had the time and space he had to smash home the equaliser.

* I'll address Luiz since he's a main talking point for this match for two reasons. (1) The Brazilian defender was superb and he even provided more imagination in attack than some of his midfield teammates. He was also fantastic in tackle and in intercepting the ball as evident by this Guardian chalkboard. (2) However, the debate is on as to whether he should have been sent off in the 2nd half for numerous body checks. Luiz was booked for a late challenge on Rooney, but he also should have been booked for a bodycheck on Chicharito and also for another challenge on Rooney. A sending off of Luiz would have changed the entire complexion of the match and it's difficult to imagine Chelsea getting all three points had that occurred. It's the biggest frustration point for me as a United supporter.

* No real tactical shifts ever occurred this half. I was a bit stunned that when Giggs came on for Scholes, that it ended up being a "like-for-like" substitution with the Welshman moving to the center in his club record equaling 606th league appearance. I thought that Fletcher would move into the middle and that Nani would move out to the right flank. This would have been a very positive substitution. Chicharito was also subbed off at the same time for Berbatov as the Mexican striker failed to inspire. Berba didn't fare any better in his brief stint. After Lampard put Chelsea ahead with his penalty, Fergie did indeed make the change that I had fully expected. Fabio also came on for a banged up Evra and got forward more. 

* Didier Drogba coming on for Anelka proved to be a good substitution. Anelka didn't provide much and was essentially non-existent. Drogba's physicality was impactful and Chelsea continued to look more and more positive as the half wore on. 

* Other than this, not much interesting happened tactically. Chelsea just grew in confidence and played better. If Luiz had been sent off, the entire match would have changed and I'd have more interesting things to say about this half. 

MISC THOUGHTS:

* I have a new villain in my life... 

* However, this villain was superb throughout the match and was the best player on the pitch, even if he deserved to be sent off. As for my "United Man of the Match," I'll go with Rooney. Luiz got the best of him at times and Wazza gaffed here and there, but he was also exceptional as well. He was the spark in the attack and obviously scored that wonderful goal. Five goals now in his past five league games. He's beginning to hit form at the right moment. 

* Vidic and Smalling were very solid as well, but both had their obvious moment of despair. Vida with his sending off in stoppage time and Smalling with the unfortunate concession of a penalty. Expect Wes Brown to deputy for Vidic at Anfield on Sunday as Rio Ferdinand doesn't appear to be ready to return yet.

* How can Martin Atkinson be assigned to his game, especially after referring last season's controversial match in this exact same fixture?! It's an absurd appointment. Yes, it might sound like sour grapes but this is a reasonable complaint and it's magnified by questionable referring today. For those who want to point out that Rooney was lucky to avoid suspension from last Saturday, perhaps you're right. But the assertion that he would have missed this match if he had been punished is flat out wrong, as he would have appealed the decision and Wazza would have suited up tonight anyway. I'm also sick of people laughing at United supporters when they complain about officiating. No matter how you feel about United and their treatment from officials, don't we or any club on the planet have a right to question an official if we feel they made a series of errors? Of course we and anybody else do. 

* Smalling's conceded penalty is indeed unfortunate, but I have a hard time faulting the young lad. As I mentioned, Zhirkov essentially ran into his thigh and fell over... difficult to avoid for Smalling. But it's something that likely will be called every time as someone else's ground. He played well again in another big match and the experience he's getting while deputizing for Ferdinand is invaluable. 

* I like the initial decision to start Chicharito because I thought his pace could give Terry fits. Even though he was ineffective, I thought it was a brave and bold move by Fergie to drop Berba while still using a loose '4-4-2' shape in a match of this magnitude. 

* Loved seeing Gary Neville sitting with the paid supporters and going wild like any of us would if we were at the Bridge. 

* Sunday is crucial. Vitally important. United must not allow one loss turn into two and have this be the slipping point of the season. Arsenal is vulnerable with their injuries to Cesc Fragileglass, Robin Van Persie, and Theo Walcott. I feel that if we can take 7 points from the fixtures at Anfield, at Emirates, and home to Chelsea, then the 19th league title is ours. But we will have to do it on Sunday without our skipper Vidic. 

Fergie had some interesting post-match comments per the Guardian. 

- "It was a major game for both clubs and you want a fair referee, you know... You want a strong referee and we didn't get that."

- "When I saw who was refereeing it, I feared the worst"

- On Luiz not being sent off.... "I don't know how he's on the pitch. Even before that (first foul on Wazza) he'd done Chicharito off the ball late. Nothing's done and the referee's in front of it. He's then done Rooney clear as day and he's six yards from him. Doesn't do anything"

- Ancelotti even admitted that Luiz "might have been lucky."

- Fergie on his side "They've endured a lot of decisions against them, they've carried themselves through it, done their best, created chances with good football, and didn't deserve that." This could a good psychological ploy to rid his players of criticism and focus it on Atkinson. In Fergie I trust. 

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