Monday, 19 September 2011

Torr-id Times: Man Utd v Chelsea Observations - 18th September 2011

Rarely am I left speechless by something I see on the football pitch but it is actually difficult to put into words what we saw at Old Trafford on Sunday. Of course, I'm referring to that astonishing miss by a certain £50 million striker. For the only person on planet earth who hasn't seen it yet, during the second half of Manchester United's unconvincing 3-1 win over Chelsea, Fernando Torres, who had actually already grabbed the consolation and with a chance to reduce the arrears further, sprung the United offside trap, produced a beautiful step-over to fool fellow former Atletico player David De Gea in the reds goal, but with the empty net gaping wider than a lady adult film star at the end of a long and, ahem, fulfilling career, managed to slice the ball wide leaving literally everyone who saw it open-mouthed with astonishment. It was one of those moments that almost redefined the idea of going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Majestic skill followed by a "what the hell was that?" finish. It was basically the Godfather 3 of football.

Regardless of your feelings toward Chelsea, Torres or the colour blue, it was hard not to feel a tinge of sympathy for hapless striker. The Spaniard was having a fairly decent game and was actually doing a fairly decent impression of a footballer - Not just him but the rest of his teammates too.

All season long, and with good reason, every man, woman, child and dog with even a passing interest in English football has been heaping praise on the Salford based reds for what has been a pretty impressive looking start to the season. You could argue (and I will because it's MY blog!) that they hadn't really been tested in any of their opening four games. The meek surrender by the two North London clubs and Bolton last week were more a reflection of the failings of those three sides than any sort of superhuman ability of Sir Alex Ferguson's team. In fact, their toughest game was their opening fixture at the Hawthorns when, in truth, they were very fortunate to come away with three points.

Chelsea would be the first real stern test for United and so it proved in everything other than the final 3-1 scoreline. Chelsea passed the ball better and created more chances. But for some truly woeful finishing (see above) would have won this match comfortably.

Chris Smalling gave United the lead with a header that was so far offside that he may as well have been in another post code. Forget daylight, you could have fit the entire sun, moon and stars between the former Fulham man and the Chelsea back line. Jamie Redknapp spouted some nonsense on Sky about how the defenders are still obliged to follow the man in that situation. I personally don't see how it is possible to apportion any blame to the Blues who were trying to hold a defensive line. Something they did successfully and were robbed by the ref's assistant who may as well have been wearing a stripped shirt and carrying a bag with SWAG written on it...

But alas, if Karma does exist some cad might point out that Chelsea themselves were once the beneficiaries of refereeing incompetence at Old Trafford when Didier Drogba slammed home what turned out to be a title-deciding winning goal back in 2009.

Nani aka Michael Jackson circa Thriller days, launched a surface to air missile to make it 2-0 and Rooney grabbed his NINTH goal already this season after tapping in a third before half time after great work from the increasingly impressive Phil Jones. United's summer signing from Blackburn may or may not have then stood over John Terry and laughed maniacally as he pretty much confirmed his status as the new and improved version of the Chelsea man. The writing is on the wall. Jones could be replacing Terry in the England team in the not too distant future.

United went in at the half with a thoroughly undeserved 3-0 lead. I doubt you can find another example of a team with such a commanding lead having been second best for so long in the game. Chelsea could not have asked for a better start to the second half as sub Nicolas Anelka - who replaced the ineffective Frank Lampard - threaded a delightful pass to the abovementioned Torres who managed to net what some would argue was his first 'proper' goal in Chelsea colours. Yes, he scored against West Ham last season but Avram Grant's team was so bad I doubt that netting against them could be considered a real achievement.

The Spaniard's delightful, well taken, outside foot finish was the end of the scoring but far from the end of the incident. Time and time again we are told that the Premier League is the "best in the world" but you could have easily mistaken a lot of what took place in this game for a Sunday league match. And that's being unkind to anyone who has ever played Sunday league football! Chelsea and United players become involved in a battle of who could embarrass themselves more. After United were awarded a penalty for 'foul' on Nani, Wayne Rooney, who for my money had a very poor game given his recent great form, 'John Terry-d' it by falling over and slicing it so far wide it nearly ended up in the dugouts. 'Wazza' then somehow hit the post from three yards with what many may be described as the miss off the season surpassing Ramires' terrible first half effort when the Brazilian somehow manage to play his shot straight at De Gea when it would have actually been easier to score.

Then there was Fernando Torres (of course). While many will (rightly) talk about the open goal. The former Liverpool striker guilty of another glorious (?) miss not long before as he embarked on a stunning slaloming run leaving United defenders in his wake like some sort of effeminate, Spanish road-runner before unleashing a shot at De Gea but unfortunately sending the rebound somewhere between Mars and Jupiter.

Completing the programme of profligacy was substitute Dimitar Berbatov who was lucky to get anything at all on Wayne Rooney's terrible square ball but only succeeded in making it easy enough for Ashley Cole to clear off the line. Cashley himself shouldn't have even been on the pitch after a filthy, reckless, x-rated lunge on Javier Hernandez that could and should have resulted in a penalty and sending off. You could argue all you want about the technicality of the ball being out of play so no spot kick is awarded but there's no defending Cole's potential leg breaker. More daft technicalities mean no retrospective action can be taken. I've said it before and I'll say it again; The law is an ass!

What did this game ultimately teach us? Nothing we didn't know already, really. United are pretty deadly going forward and there are very few, if any defences in the division that will keep them at bay. The reds are far from limited in their approach either. All three goals against Chelsea were different. Set-piece, screamer, tap-in. You name it, United can score it. However, for all the praise heaped on them, they may well end up taking a sawn-off, pointing it right at their pinky toe and pulling the trigger. On another day facing a less broken striker, they may be punished for their lapses at the back. It says a great deal about their approach that they have conceded the most shots of any team in the league so far (Chelsea managed 22 alone). Surely logic would dictate that if they continue to be so inviting, a team will eventually start converting these chances and beat them.

Of course, not enough times to prevent them winning the league. But a couple of losses might make it vaguely interesting for the rest of us this time.

As for the Blues, I've given up making the mistake of writing them off and taking great joy out of any fleeting failing. Too many times I'm made to look foolish. Defeat at Old Trafford was far from a disaster and if they continue to play as well as they did and are a bit more clinical, then talk of a two-horse title race might be a tad premature. Talk of an aging side is hollow. On Sunday, only Frank Lampard and to some degree, John Terry looked like they were struggling to keep up with the game. The former in particular, I expect to be jettisoned from the starting XI before long. The talents of new boy Juan Mata and, believe me, Daniel Sturridge among others will not be supressed for long though. For all the furore surrounding Torres, it would be remiss of me to ignore the fact this was a much improved performance from him. Drogba is still waiting in the wings and you have to think that Michael Essien has a point to prove after a poor campaign last time around. Yes, Villas-Boas' team still looks like a work in progress but ominously, positive signs are there.

Be warned!

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Anonymous said...

Screw you....talking about offsides fitting suns and moons nobody forgets drogba's 1 meter offside goal that won chelsea the premier league...if they didnt give that as offside then we wont feel any sympathy or unfairness towards chelsea...lets not forget March 1 this year where it was clear that the ref made sure that there can only be one winner....Chelsea has always had thier way with referee's so we wont feel like we getting anything for free when we get decisions our way...Chelsea also had several offside calls not called by the linesman,the difference is we scored ours.

peiz said...

Give us one example where Chelsea where offside in that match, and the ref did't call it.

On a side note, Nani was offside prior to his goal too