By Mark Nevin
1. United players still get sent off
Rafael’s red card was silly, in several respects. David Luiz, having done as much as he could to rub his compatriot up the wrong way, looked an idiot lying there with a stupid grin on his face. The incident generated a passion among both sets of players six minutes from time that hadn’t been there all afternoon. And, ultimately, it’s a bit silly to kick someone right in front of the officials. Overall, it was a bizarre ending to a game that always felt a bit surreal: knowing we were playing Chelsea at this stage of the season with absolutely nothing to play for and where even defeat, though annoying, didn’t matter very much.
Rafael needs to be careful, though. This season has seen him mature into a very fine player and he can’t afford to let himself get rubbed up the wrong way by irritating players from the opposition. David Luiz, admittedly, is a bit of a one-off in many respects, but there are enough others around the game who’ll happily do that kind of thing to him if they know he’ll react.
So United received a first red card for 2012-13, which is probably more of a problem for City fans than for us. I’m sure we can cope without our first choice right back for the remainder of the season, while they’ve been robbed of a cheap point in protest at our lack of a serious disciplinary record this season. All it needs now is for us to concede a penalty against Swansea or West Brom and their season will be even more ruined.
2. Chelsea are a few signings away from being genuine contenders
As with the Arsenal game last week, there was one side today looking for points in order to secure a Champions League place and another looking simply to add them to the pile. Given that, you’d expect a side with real potential to have made a much better fist of the game. Notwithstanding that they won it in the end, the overriding impression all the way through was of a side more than happy with a draw at Old Trafford. Understandable, you might say, but only understandable for a team who don’t look like anything more than contenders for the third place spot in the near future. Against a United team starting without De Gea, Rooney, Rio and Carrick, Chelsea more than played their part in this soulless encounter.
True, they were without Hazard, but a general lack of ability to find the final pass – even with Mata and the always classy Ramires in the midfield – marked out this Chelsea as one severely lacking in options. The bench was largely populated by nobodies and, in terms of forward options, the prospect of Torres coming on for Demba Ba doesn’t, I suspect, have too many defences wetting themselves these days. They certainly don’t come anywhere near the luxuries enjoyed by United or even City in that area of the field and a couple of forward signings looks a minimum requirement for next season before they can be taken seriously.
3. Our midfield can play without Carrick, but the gap takes some filling
United started the game with Jones as holding player and Anderson and Cleverley supplying the energy and Giggs the craft. Jones gives you a lot more physical presence in that role than Carrick does, but he doesn’t read the game as well and he’ll never supply Carrick’s creativity. It was an arrangement that worked pretty well but one that also revealed much about how much Carrick gives us in a two man midfield. Not that it needed revealing, of course, because the man’s been a giant all season.
More importantly, despite some excellent balls from Giggsy, this United midfield just didn’t possess the style and potential to dig out killer passes in the way we’ve done all season. Carrick’s unassuming demeanour and quiet assurance makes him one of those players you always notice more when he’s not there, and this afternoon certainly bore that out.
4. Lindegaard needs to seek another employer
I don’t say that unkindly, simply that he’s clearly a decent enough keeper but no more than that, and the gap between him and De Gea, which was once close enough to generate legitimate debate, has now widened to an unbridgeable length. The Dane was making his ninth appearance of the season today, but any suggestion that he stands a chance of claiming the number one spot (a view I never subscribed to anyway) now seems as distant and as daft as those early comparisons with Schmeichel.
Today, although not tested too often, he was just unconvincing enough to make me worried should De Gea come down with an injury. He looked generally nervy, poorly handling aerial balls and guilty of some woeful distribution at times. More significantly, the defence didn’t look completely secure in front of him in the way we’ve become accustomed to in the second half of this season. You just can’t see him making it at United, and for his sake we’d be better off parting company: I’d be happier with United securing the services of a decent veteran keeper in the mould of Raimond van der Gouw to come in as understudy for the occasional game.
5. This is how it feels to be champions
Dull match, deckchairs out, going through the motions. Not the reason we go to football matches, but in the circumstances I’ll take it. There’s an air of sterility about things at the moment but I’d prefer that any day compared with the twisted guts feeling of last season. We’ve had the United flag flying out of the back bedroom window for nearly two weeks now, in prime position for the City fan who lives behind us to see it every time he goes out to the bin or steps outside his kitchen door for a smoke.
I don’t kid myself that the players have done anything like that, but the way we’re playing I can see they’re in a similar place. It would be boring if it always felt like this, of course, but the next season I’ll come around soon enough so for the moment I’m happy coming away from defeats that I’d normally be really pissed off about with a big smile still on my face.
Mark Nevin is the author of A Deeper Shade of Red, a recently published book on the United/Liverpool rivalry. You can get a Kindle copy HERE or one from Smashwords HERE. The book is available in digital format from these and other distributors.