With the aftermath of Sunday’s clash still fresh in the minds and, indeed, the papers and blogs, Manchester United faced Chelsea for the second time in days, this time in the Capital One Cup.
After the controversy and drama of the weekend, fans and neutrals will have been hoping that this tie would be just as entertaining, as other League Cup clashes had been the day before. Sir Alex Ferguson made it known prior to the game that a more youthful side would be picked, but that the line up would still have some strength to it. For the game at Stamford Bridge, Lindegaard took place in goal, with youngsters Wootton and Keane sat in front of him. Buttner and Rafael were on the left and right respectively. In midfield, Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher and Anderson made up a trio with Nani, Welbeck and Hernandez further up.
The match began with Chelsea looking the brighter of the sides, looking more threatening as they got forward as United tried to find their way into the game. On the ball the home side appeared more composed, but with just over 20 minutes gone, it was the visitors who made the breakthrough, as Anderson dispossessed Romeu after a goal kick, and the Brazilian played in Giggs who finished calmly into the left to put his side 0-1 up. The hosts responded and began to press the United back line. 10 minutes later, Moses was found to be taking on Buttners down the right, and in trying to get past him, was felled by Buttner, the left back unable to keep pace and a penalty was duly awarded. David Luiz stepped up and finished well, with Lindegaard guessing the right way but unable to to keep it out.
Chelsea continued to push, but with minutes to go in the first half, David Luiz was dispossessed and the ball was played to Anderson, who threaded an inch perfect pass through to Hernandez, who took a touch on and finished swiftly to put United 1-2 going into half time.
The second half began with Buttner making way for Nick Powell, with Rafael moving to left back and Darren Fletcher at right. United started brightly, with Powell getting involved in play immediately. However, after 52 minutes, Chelsea received a corner, it was taken and Cahill rushed in to head in, with Rafael Unable to prevent the ball going over the line and the game was once again level at 2-2. Chelsea were still pushing forward, but the score was not to stay the same for long.
Good play started by Nani to get the ball forward resulted in Powell playing the ball to Hernandez, the ball played to Nani before reaching Anderson who played in the Portuguese winger to coolly lift the ball over the goalkeeper and give his side a 2-3 lead.
From there it looked as though United may see the game out. Under continued pressure from the home side, who brought on Oscar and Hazard to try and grab an equaliser, one thought United may hold on as the game reached it’s final moments. Deep into injury time, United cleared their lines, but Hernandez was called offside and Chelsea were awarded a free kick. Chelsea pushed forward and the ball found it’s way into the box, and as Ramires was about to let rip, Wootton clumsily went into the back of him sending Ramires to the floor and conceding a penalty. Hazard stepped up and nonchalantly placed the ball down the middle. 3-3 and extra time beckoned.
Extra time began, and both sides had their moments, with the home side looking the more dangerous of the two, and 7 minutes in, a long ball was poorly dealt with by Wootton who put the ball into the path of Sturridge for the striker to finish and give Chelsea the lead for the first time at 4-3. Macheda was brought on for Welbeck at this point but nothing changed as the half finished 4-3.
There was time for more drama, with United looking ever more fatigued, Ramires rounded Lindegaard to put the game almost beyond doubt at 5-3 after being caught on the break with good play from Hazard. However, just as it was thought to be over, Hernandez was fouled in the box and Ryan Giggs stepped up and scored from the spot to bring the game to 5-4 as Chelsea saw out the remaining moments to progress through to the next round.
Plenty of thrills, a different line up and some interesting talking points, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Open football played in the right spirit
One thing that can be taken from the Capital One Cup on this occasion is just how open and attacking the football seems to be. With Arsenal dramatically winning 7-5 the night before and Wednesday night’s televised game, there has been plenty of entertainment provided for neutrals and fans alike. The standard has almost been exhibition in it’s quality with sides willing to be more expressive in their play.
As well as this, after Sunday’s heated encounter at Stamford Bridge, one must highlight the contrast that Wednesday’s clash showed, with little trouble throughout the match and both sides putting in a strong effort. The referee appeared to avoid controversy allowing the game to flow and keeping the teams in line. As well as this, his decisions on the whole were extremely good and no arguments could be drawn from his calls and the outcome of the game.
2) A steep learning curve
In place of the usual experienced defenders, faith was placed in youngsters Scott Wootton and Michael Keane to come up against the likes of Mata, Sturridge as well as Hazard and Oscar later on. Despite the pressure they found themselves under quite often, one must give them credit for the way they handled themselves and although it got difficult particularly towards the end, there is plenty that can be taken away from this experience for both players.
Of the two, Wootton had the more difficult night, conceding a penalty in the last minute of normal time and being at fault for Chelsea’s fourth. Although one might question why he was played against a side like Chelsea, and although using both was always a risk, occasions like Wednesday may allow them to learn and gain experience from what happened. If Vidic or Ferdinand had had a game like that, we would rightly be critical, given that they are capable of better and should be experienced enough to deal with such situations.
But for a young defender coming through the ranks with very little Premier League experiences, being thrown in at the deep end could ultimately be beneficial to their development, provided they have the right attitude and although there is no guarantee that we will see either regularly taking place within the starting 11, night’s like this one could ultimately see them gain the qualities needed for a sustained career at a high level.
3) Anderson – Three assists, fine passing….. still unfit
There were a few notable performances at Stamford Bridge. Hernandez, Giggs and Nani all had good games and noteworthy moments. However, for me, Anderson was United’s man of the match. The Brazilian midfielder was constantly involved in United’s attacking play, placing accurate passes and readily getting involved in what some may have thought as his best Paul Scholes impression.
His pass for Hernandez’s goal was perfect to play the Mexican in to finish and he linked well with Nani for the third.
Fans are in no doubt that Anderson’s time at United has been chequered at best. Premier League and Champion’s League success have been overshadowed by what many agree has been an underwhelming progression in the side, a failure to fulfil the potential originally seen in him. He has always shown glimpses of what he is capable of without producing regularly. This season, though, the times he has been seen have often been positive and this game was likely his best of the campaign so far. For 80 minutes he gave his best in midfield and succeeded until being substituted, seemingly with nothing left to give. Which brings us to one more issue with the midfielder, his apparent lack of stamina.
It is a worry that by the hour mark, he seemed to be struggling for breath and began to look tired. Given the fact that Ryan Giggs is supposed to be taking it easy towards the end of his career and yet he played the full 120 minutes of this encounter, it makes one wonder why Anderson seems so unfit by comparison.
Regardless, after such a performance he has likely made his case to be selected for the weekend, a possible pairing with Michael Carrick may well prove successful, depending on what formation Sir Alex chooses.
4) Will we see Hernandez, Welbeck and Rafael this weekend?
One might say that to lose in normal time is better than going all the way through extra time, particularly in a competition as readily written off as the League Cup. In some respects the argument is obvious as it may rule out potential starters in Welbeck and Hernandez. Considering, the way Hernandez has impressed in recent games, he could well have been in line for a start on Saturday, if it had finished in normal time, but it would not be a surprise to see Sir Alex opt to keep him on the bench and use him if needed for an impact.
Of those, Rafael is most likely to be seen starting on Saturday, considering the lack of options currently. If Smalling is fit, it is unlikely that he will be thrown straight in for a start against Arsenal as his first game back.
At the same time other players will have been rested and should be ready, with Ferdinand, Evans, De Gea, Rooney and Van Persie as well as others getting the night off.
5) A greater appreciation for Evra and Nani’s case
Wednesday night saw Patrice Evra given the night off and new signing Buttner making an appearance. The left back is still relatively new to the set up, given the limited number of games he has played in England at this stage and the obligatory adjustments that need to take place to fit in. Although clearly talented and fairly tough, it makes one appreciate what Evra brings to the table as he has done so regularly for all the years he has been at Old Trafford. Although the Frenchman comes in for a lot of criticism, particularly when getting too far forward, it can be easy to forget the many qualities he does have, especially when Buttner can be seen to be struggling with the pace that Chelsea came at him with in the first half of the match. The young defender was taken off at half time having conceded a penalty in a half where he struggled to cope with what was asked of him and showed that although there is potential, he is some way from being a top quality left back.
As for Nani, the winger made a case for himself at a time when he supposedly cannot agree a new contract with United. He has often been cited as a mark of inconsistency, with some games being the source of frustration and others the shining example of genius that produces some fine highlights to watch when the game is done. In truth, I think it likely the winger’s days are numbered at Old Trafford and although some will likely be glad to see the back of him, I for one think he still has something to offer at the club and would like to see his time there extended.