Fergie's Gamble Paid Spectacular Dividends
I've never eaten my words with more glee than tonight. I predicted a dull, boring, tight game, possibly a 0-0 - United ended up winning 3-0 and it could have been more... I was baffled when I saw Giggs in the starting line-up and then... but I'll get there later.
Many things happened exactly the way I and many others thought they would. It was a snarling, ugly type of game - look at Rooney's feud with Bosingwa, Belletti's nasty lunge on Ronaldo, Carvalho's manhandling of his compatriot.
Also, Scolari packed the midfield and probably asked his full-backs to remain cautious. Fergie probably expected this so I must say his team selection was a premeditated gamble. It must have been done on the assumption that though Scolari would pack the midfield he would be unable to clearly define the roles of each players so Chelsea's numerical and physical superiority in midfield wouldn't have a decisive effect on the game.
So he picked two big-game players, Fletcher and Giggs, leaving out Carrick who would have been the obvious choice especially that, as Rio Ferdinand hasn't recovered after all, Jonny Evans was given the task of playing alongside Nemanja Vidic so the defence might have needed extra protection. However, Sir Alex seems to trust the young Irishman very much and on today's evidence his faith is well-founded.
Still, it was a gamble, going for Giggs rather than Carrick and in the first half it sometimes seemed that we can't get hold of the midfield. But Fergie's initial assumption was correct: Chelsea midfielders did not know what to do with possession and space and though United were hardly brilliant in that first 45 minutes, we were the team which actually created chances.
Not very much, mind you. Berbatov was sent clear brilliantly by Rooney and he brilliantly eluded Carvalho but fired a weak shot straight at Cech in the middle of the half. Not long after Ronaldo released Park with a clever ball on the left side of the penalty area but the Korean's shot was blocked by John Terry who threw himself in front off the ball.
United could have had a penalty when Carvalho wrestled Ronaldo to the ground but Webb, maybe the words of Benitez ringing in his ears, waved play on. But it was only the first bit of controversy; as the clock ticked towards the end of the first 45 minutes, United won a corner after some target practice by Park and Fletcher, indicating that the home side wants to finish the half strongly. We did, too: a sneaky corner trick conned Chelsea, Giggs whipped in a great cross and Ronaldo headed home from close range.
Regretfully, the assistant referee screwed it up big time and blew for a wrongly taken corner and Webb made Giggs take it again. Oh well, thought the old wizard and this time sent in a more traditional cross which Vidic headed in at the far post. Pretty humiliating: first attempt yielded a goal but we were robbed of that... so we scored again, showing that we can. Brilliant.
Chelsea weren't much worse in the first half, they had possession, just didn't do much with it. The second half, though, was different: Scolari's team fell to pieces. Deco was hauled off, Anelka taking his place but it brought no improvement in the visitors' football: after some early pressure, United took total control and did not relinquish it.
Ryan Giggs justified his inclusion by sharp and incisive passing while Fletcher did a tremendous amount of work, just as Park - Chelsea simply could not cope with their movement, their workrate and their desire. The second goal, on 62 minutes, effectively ended the game because Chelsea did not have the strength and energy to rally and mount a comeback.
Ronaldo, after some nice skill on the left, backheeled the ball to Evra who sent over a pinpoint cross which Rooney sidefooted home from between the legs of Ashley Cole. Brilliant goal, hilarious defending.
And then - sorry Chelsea fans, can't put it any other way - the players in blue began to embarass themselves. They looked dejected, some almost uninterested and could not string two passes together. Drogba was worse than woeful, it was an absolutely terrible display from the Ivorian. He looked like he'd rather be elsewhere.
Ronaldo had another goal taken away from him as the linesman ruled he was offside when latching onto Berbatov's pass - he wasn't. Didn't matter though, as we got the third goal at the end: Ronaldo whipped in a free-kick from the left, Vidic tied down two players with a classic basketball move and Berbatov, effortlessly leaving his marker, fired home from point-blank range.
Game over. An emphatic victory, with some of the unfashionable players taking on the responsibility. I mean, Berbatov played well, holding up the ball, linking play, getting a touch before Vidic's goal and then he scored himself. Rooney was a handful when he concentrated on football and his sweet finish secured the points and Ronaldo finally played well, caused problems throughout and should have scored.
But those who were most impressive were Fletcher, Park and Evans, three men without whom we wouldn't be title favourites now. They, along with Evra, were very consistent all season, unlike the aforementioned bigger games and deserve to get their share of the plaudits. United confirmed their status as title favourites and it's the rivals who should be worrying now.