CHELSEA VS MANCHESTER UNITED
19.01.2014

United were at Chelsea this weekend as they faced one of their traditional main rivals for the first time since the victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford. Considering current  the state of affairs, a victory for United would have been a considerable bonus.

PERSONNEL

In: Evans, Jones and Young.
Out: Smalling, Fletcher and Kagawa.

KEY POINTS

  • Not taking advantage of the good start was a missed opportunity and frustrating that such performance extends to a small window at the start of the game.
  • Januzaj v Ivanovic, particularly in the first half, proved to be where most of United’s attacking success came. This also highlighted the ineffectiveness of Young.
  • United’s defence looked very insecure and showed poor positioning and a lack of alertness when defending. Memories of Rome 2009 came back with the way Eto’o eased past United’s defence.
  • The midfield failed to press in the final third – either when defending from the front (except in the first 15 minutes) or when attacking and providing options.
  • The final balls were a let down; we cite Smalling’s stabbed volley in the second half as an example.
  • Keeping up with the Jones’: Willian proved his worth and emphasised Chelsea’s embarrassment in the midfield area, United’s Achilles heel.
  • Chelsea’s defence sat deep but United didn’t ask enough questions. The midfield didn’t help as they weren’t aggressive enough in their passing and pressing game. Both Jones and Carrick stayed deep.

FIRST HALF

FIRST HALF United’s first half shape

What were we watching? United had gone for it in the early part of the half and the speed from Welbeck appeared to be giving United the edge. In addition to this Young and Valencia were seen to be pressing on Chelsea’s fullbacks.

These fullbacks, Ivanovic and Azpilicueta, tried to stretch the United frontline by hugging the touchline with the aim of creating space in the middle.

United were handling such strategy well and the excellent work ethic we’ve become used to from Januzaj saw him win the ball back a few times and have options out wide and crucially within close proximity. This response to the strategy was helped by United’s full backs positioned very close to the opposition player. Also, Welbeck and Januzaj regularly swapped and dropped to occupy David Luiz. Surprisingly, throughout the game we saw the Brazilian pushing on more often than the usual marauding Ramires.  It was great to watch.

However, soon enough United were 1-0 down as they failed to capitalise on their industrious start where we saw Eto’o leave Jones  looking foolish as he turned him too easily, dart into the space the run by Hazard, taking Carrick with him had created. His shot deflected off Carrick leaving de Gea no chance.

1ST GOAL

The ominous thing we noticed following this goal was how United’s intensity dropped following the goal and made it difficult to see a way back into the game. Yet, despite Chelsea getting better there was a glimmer of hope which taken away as Welbeck was fouled in the penalty area and no penalty was forthcoming.

This was frustrating to watch and compounded by United’s attacking shape which was too linear from the front players, typically Young, Januzaj, Welbeck and Valencia. The crosses from Young and Valencia were not accurate enough but also the space behind Welbeck and Januzaj was not occupied by United’s midfielders who were AWOL.

United need to be accountable for their failure to expose John Terry’s weakness in being able to deal with balls behind him; the game cried out for Hernandez for either Young or Valencia (we were saved from Young’s performance by Moyes with this substitution early on in the second half).

The frustration the players must be experiencing reared its head with the unnecessary booking Young took. Yet, Young must have been more frustrated at his own performance as he failed to make an impact, so much so that Januzaj brought more to the left than Young did. Often we saw the left empty beyond Evra as Young often pulled inside.

Willian was key to Chelsea’s success. We saw him start on the right but quickly moved out to the left where he kept tucked in and overloaded the left. He was technically excellent, showed great athleticism but in stark contrast to United he had dynamism.

2-0 before half-time came about after United defended a set piece but were all at sea for the second phase. The image below shows how poorly it was defended during its build up.

2ND GOAL

SECOND HALF

The game was over as United went 3-0 down as a corner was poorly defended as Cahill lost his marker giving him a free header which de Gea saved but 32 year old Eto’o reacted quicker and stronger than Valencia to stab the rebound home.

SECOND HALF United in the 2nd half

Hernandez came on 56 minutes and as a result Januzaj went left and robbed United of any creativity. The little Mexican was great, he injected a threat, but seeing him dropping was pointless. One, the space toward the goal was empty as a result and two the midfield were not close enough or offering runs and passes. No end product created a very frustrating afternoon.

78 minutes United scored through Hernandez who latched onto a miss hit shot from Jones who’d found space by pushing on. This was the first time a cut back ball had been successful. This type of exchange had been missing since the first 15 minutes of the first half. As we said earlier, Hernandez needed to play on the shoulder and resist dropping off, crossing and setting up plays away from the penalty area as it reduced his effectiveness. More support from the midfield was required and the through ball was not used enough. Make it tough for the centre backs.

PLAYER POSITIONING AND INFLUENCE

Mourinho had already poured cold water on the flicker of a United comeback by bringing the “paper-weight” Mikel on and after the goal Chelsea were a much more defensive shape. In response United looked busier but consistently ineffective.

CONCLUSION

What is the future going to look like under Moyes? The first 15 minutes were encouraging, really encouraging (failing toscore aside) but after this United were not in the game. True they enjoyed a lot of the ball but were frighteningly sheepish with it and produced no end product.

No control in midfield meant that the likes of Luiz and Willian had time to bring the ball forward. Jones tried hard but loses elegance and poise in his admirable pursuit of the ball. Again frustration must be a factor for the players, hence the rash of cautions and the Vidic sending off towards the end of the game.

Besides Januzaj there was no obvious individual quality which made supporters think that the game could be turned. It’s a fact that United are missing van Persie and Rooney. Surely, the fact that van Persie was kept fit for the majority of last season was one of the main differences between the team under Moyes and the team under Sir Alex?

As the game wore on the words that came to mind were, no fight, no composure and no hope. Despite Moyes belief to the contrary surely United’s title challenge is over. We’d love to be proved wrong. Out of the top 8 teams in games United have played this season they have won only once. Nothing new here, this is similar to season 2008-9 for example. The key is to start winning games against teams from mid-table and below, especially at Old Trafford.