Date:Monday November 27 2006
It's all over, now, thankfully, as my nerves have been tested severely during the build-up and the game itself.
United and Chelsea have slugged out an enthralling, entertaining 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, a result which reflected the pattern of the game. But we should have wrapped it up.
Even Jose Mourinho admitted after the game that United had dominated the first half. Our attacking approach did not result many clear-cut chances but we put Chelsea firmly on the back foot and Saha's wonderful goal was no more than that we deserved.
We were one up against the mighty champions, playing well, controlling the game. Carrick was fantastic, Vidic and Rio impressive while Heinze and Gary did their job confidently. We could have had an even bigger lead had Saha shown the same bravery that had served him so well at his goal.
The Frenchman break clear on the left, got through Carvalho again but instead of shooting he carried the ball near the by-line and his low cross was nowhere good enough - the chance wasted. Than Giggs received a fine ball from Rooney, beat the sliding Carvalho, raced through on goal - but he, too, did not shoot when he had a decent chance to do so.
Chelsea failed to create anything at all in the first half. Geremi had had a powerful shot parried by van der Sar but that was all. Otherwise, their owercrowded midfield was simply not up to the job.
The introduction of Arjen Robben changed a lot of things. Not that the Dutchman was playing so well - on the contrary, he was rather unanimous. But Essien was set free along the right flank, Robben on the left, and the visitors began to express themselves more effectively. Their physical superiority finally became clear, they were dominant in posession - and still, Saha and Ronaldo spurned golden chances to increase the lead.
First, Rooney fought his way into the penalty box from the left - he could have tried to earn a penalty when Drogba was holding on his shirt but Wazza decided to on (a diver?) - his low cross ricocheted off Saha's legs, and the ball rolled to Ronaldo who just missed it by inches. Then Heinze sent a fine cross from the left into the path of Ronaldo, who chested it down but the ball got too far away from him and Saha failed to beat Terry for it even though he seemed to have a decent chance.
At his point Sir Alex should have made a substitution. Giggs tucked into the middle to support Carrick and the quiet Scholes so we did not make advantage of the fact that the excellent Essien was playing everywhere on the park but right-back. Meanwhile, Ronaldo struggled to make a real impact against Ashley Cole, his pacy runs resulted in no end product. I think United should have brought on Fletcher for Giggs. No, really. Fletch could have done a lot to ease the strains on Carrick and Scholes and to eliminate Chelsea's numerical advantage in the middle of the park. Ronaldo could have been switched to the left where he would have been facing wide spaced instead of Ashley Cole and could have had a decisive impact on the game.
Well, Sir Alex knows it better than I do, he did not make a substitution until after Carvalho's goal when it was apparent that both teams had been satisfied with the inevitable draw.
The game has not decided anything but it has shown the weaknesses of both teams. As for United, we did not have an attacking player on the bench and were overpowered in midfield as we surely lack the intimidating physical attributes of Chelsea players. Essien is the type of player we need: he did a fantastic amount of running, he was everywhere on the field, ensuring that the visitors could always outnumber the hosts in the second half.
As for the Blues, their lack of width in midfield was painfully obvious in the first half. Their attacking play was way too predictable as their full-backs did not provide a real attacking threat so they've tried to do everything in the middle and that was always due to end in failure.
Yet recounting these flaws in the superpowers' machines did not make much sense now: we were all aware that these existed and this game has merely confirmed them.
We'll see which team improves from now on and the January transfer window may prove to be decisive. I don't really see who could Chelsea sign now to get stronger so it's up to us to purchase players shrewdly.
Date:Monday November 27 2006
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