Monday, January 12, 2009

United lay their cards on table

Though we tend to overhype the bigger Premier League games as season-defining more often than strictly true, yesterday may just have bucked the trend. It genuinely did have a sense of shaping a season about it by the end. Because at the end of 90 minutes at Old Trafford yesterday, Man Utd had laid down their challenge to make it three-in-a-row titles and Chelsea had done everything but wave the white flag in their efforts to make a go of it, surrendering in a manner that suggest serious problems at Stamford Bridge.

It's fair to say the absence of Rio Ferdinand and the inclusion of Ryan Giggs in midfield - to the exclusion of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes especially- raised a few eyebrows pre-match and maybe tilted a lot of predictions towards the crowd in blue. Shows how much the average punters (Jumpthefence included it turns out) know and just why Alex Ferguson is the most successful manager of a generation. Giggs was truly superb and composed, Fletcher a bundle of energy - and the most improved player at a big club this season, that he was a definite starter beforehand says a lot - alongside him. Sure, Chelsea played some keepball for the opening half-hour but there was no penetration, no end product and Edwin Van Der Sar was as much a bystander as Jose Mourinho in the stands.

United were by no means overly fluent or outstandingly sharp going forward but they had an energy, a purpose and a threat that eventually wore Chelsea down and once they sensed a vulnerability in their opponents, United had that mentality to go for the throat. They were a big-game club yesterday. Park was boundless in his running on the wing. Ronaldo was dangerous, was involved in two goals, had two disallowed - probably both wrongly, wasn't that corner-kick trick clever in such a huge game? - and was just wide with another excellent attempt. Rooney worked tirelessly and grabbed a goal. Berbatov linked well and ended with a fine goal and an assist. More than anything, Vidic was absolutely immense, Evans looks a real player and the whole defence was rock-solid - they haven't conceded in eight league games. You have to fancy them going on a run of wins from here.

Chelsea were simply blown away and their lack of fight was kind of sad by the end. Like a washed-up fighter who'd suddenly realised, in a world title fight, there was little left in them. John Terry looked resigned to defeat. Deco and Ballack look shadows of once-great players. Drogba was disgracefully uninterested. Anelka was Anelka. They'll do well to mount any kind of challenge in the league after this sort of loss.

It was that kind of day,two performances and a result that seemed to have more meaning than one game really should. We'll learn soon enough if that's the case.

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