5 Things We Learned: Chelsea 2 – 3 Manchester United
1. Time to party like it’s 1999
Sir Alex said once we acquired Robin van Persie in the summer that he had a talented corps of strikers, a group that reminded him (as it did some fans) of our treble winning season in ’99. I actually think it’s even better. Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were a fantastic quartet and scored a bucket load of goals, as a collective they were very different to today’s front four. In Wayne Rooney and van Persie, United have what they didn’t in 99 – two definite world class strikers. Cole and Yorke’s partnership was almost telepathic, Solskjaer was the dangerously underrated and lethal poacher who could score all types of goals and Sheringham was the wise old head whose surprising switch to Old Trafford made for a nevertheless successful stint in his twilight years. Rooney and RVP would arguably walk into any team on the planet and they both strike fear into any defence before a ball has been kicked. Rooney is a proven goalscorer but his key tools are craft and vision, while the Dutchman’s finishing is deadly and almost guarantees goals. Mexican Javier Hernandez and the emerging, home-grown Danny Welbeck receive less attention, but as you will see from his last two games, Chicarito is rediscovering his form and is a serious goal threat. Welbeck, simply put, excites me. He’s got tremendous skill and pace, while his aerial prowess, hard work and intelligence are undervalued attributes. He knows where the goal is too and can score all types of them. His biggest plus point for me, and a commodity that Sir Alex loves to see in his young players, is the confidence he has in his ability no matter who the opposition is or how hard he gets kicked.
Welbeck didn’t play at Stamford Bridge but the Little Pea and Van the Man were on the score sheet while Rooney was at the forefront of most of everything that was good for United.
2. Antonio Valencia is scarily good
He’s been quality since he first pulled on a Red Devils’ shirt but over the last 18 months, I think Fergie and the Ecuadorian himself have realised there’s no limit to how good he can become. In point one I touched on how Rooney and van Persie are definitely world class players and I don’t think the former Wigan flyer is too far off that level. Quiet and unassuming off the field, even on it, he must be a dream for Fergie. He trains hard, plays hard, works hard and doesn’t cause a fuss. Another commodity highly valued by Fergie. In a changing time of the rise of player power and a bourgeoning culture of overpaid whingers, Valencia is a breath of fresh air. I wish his attitude towards the game would really rub off on Nani, who I’m such a big fan off, but whereas Nani gets animated and frustrated with himself, teammates, anyone in fact, and goes hiding during games, Valencia knuckles down. He’s had his fair share of problems in the last 18 months, several niggling injuries since his broken ankle, while he’s often been asked to fill in at right back, and perhaps one or two momentary issues with form, but he has just got his head down.
Against Chelsea, Valencia did everything but score. He skewed horribly wide late on but set up van Persie’s goal and was a threat all game and made Ashley Cole look like Paul Konchesky.
3. Fergie proves he is still the old master
Lots of talk before the game had been about Chelsea’s unbeaten record and their potent three-pronged attack of Oscar, Hazard and Mata. Many predicted Fergie would stick to a more rigid midfield formation to stifle the flying hosts but instead he met fire with fire and it was nice to see him starting with two wingers again. Against one of the big boys and with our defensive frailties, many thought he might play it safe and try to frustrate the Blues, but instead he trusted his own attacking weapons to do what they do and, despite what people say about our leaky defence, with the options we have going forward, we’re going to cause anyone problems this season. It’s the old front that Manchester United always used to present, even in the days when our defence was dominant, you score three, we’ll score four and with our front line this season, if we can find the right gears in games, we’re going to do some damage.
4. I don’t think David de Gea will ever get a break
In many ways, I smile at the criticism that our young Spanish ‘keeper receives because much of it is simply because he’s a Man Utd player and people want to see him fail. Of course he’s made some mistakes, big ones, but 21-year-old players tend to do that. It’s always glossed over how many good things he does too, for example his save from Fernando Torres’ header in the first half of Sunday’s game, which was magnificent. Instead the commentators chose to focus on the fact that he ‘seemed to save more shots with his feet than his hands’. Um, who cares?! Yes the save with his feet from the Luiz free kick seemed unorthodox but, to me, it looked like he saw it late. The other saves he made with his feet were the best options for the given situations he found himself in, and try telling Peter Schmeichel that all good goalkeepers don’t use their feet to good effect. He was an expert. From where I’m sitting, he’s growing with every week that passes, and he was pretty rock solid on Sunday.
5. Finally a result on the pitch and a few from the officials at Stamford Bridge
The Bridge has not been a happy hunting ground for United in the last decade, we’ve been poor there, but we’ve also had some bad decisions go against us there too. Wes Brown and Michael Carrick have fallen foul of some terrible refereeing decisions in recent years so it was nice to get the rub of the green in West London for a change at the weekend. I like to think I’m a pretty level headed United fan. Chicarito was definitely offside and Torres’ yellow for diving was extremely harsh as Jonny Evans caught him. But all the furore after the final whistle and conspiracy theorists coming out from behind the keyboards need a reality check. Officials make mistakes. I think Chelsea fans need to look at a couple of key decisions that went against us during the game that they will have conveniently glossed over. Torres could quite conceivably have seen red for his first yellow card with an awfully timed tackle on Tom Cleverley, which was high, dangerous and ugly. He was aided by the fact the United youngster made little of it and was quickly on his feet. Secondly, they were lucky not to be reduced to eight men late on when, bizarrely, Clattenburg awarded Chelsea a foul when John Obi Mikel, already on a yellow, barged Valencia off the ball as he approached the area. From his reaction, the Nigerian realised it was he who had committed an offence but amazingly the man in the middle awarded the hosts a free kick and gave the United No 7 a yellow. Thirdly, United could easily have been awarded a penalty for a handball by Luiz in the box in the first half. The Brazilian had one of those games where he looked more like his Simpsons lookalike Sideshow Bob than Samba kid. Chelsea fans will argue that when the ball struck his arm to block a Valencia cross, he was too close to the player for a spot kick to be awarded. For me, if you handle the ball in the box it’s a penalty every time. The one saving grace is if your hands are by your side on behind your back but Luiz’s were stretched out wide and it was a pretty clear decision as far as I was concerned. It was a controversial game but that swung both ways and the best team won.
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