With reports of snow causing disruption everywhere and the usual scare-mongering that follows whenever there is snowfall in the capital, there were some queries as to whether or not the visit of Manchester United to Stamford Bridge would go ahead. However, doubts were cast aside as it was confirmed that the match would indeed go ahead, with United looking to end a decade long search for victory at Chelsea. With the confirmed absence of Anders Lindegaard for a number of weeks, Sir Alex Ferguson recalled David De Gea to the line up, looking to get a run in the team and a chance to change the opinions of some in the media who have criticised so emphatically. In front of him sat Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans, with Patrice Evra and Rafael Da Silva out wide. In midfield, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick were paired up centrally, with Valencia and the returning Ashley Young occupying the wings. Danny Welbeck were the preferred partnership up front, with Berbatov and Hernandez dropping to the bench. With players returning from injury, a stronger starting line up was starting than had been seen in recent weeks, hoping that a strong challenge would be mounted in ending United’s barren spell at the Bridge. The first half was largely ordinary, with little to mention of note with exception to one or two controversial moments. FOr much of the half, it could be said that Chelsea enjoyed plenty of possession, with United creating a couple of chances themselves without capitalising to take the lead. Perhaps the big talking point, in a game full of penalty appeals, came when Danny Welbeck was brought down by Cahill in what appeared a clear penalty, but was waved away by Howard Webb all the same. In fact, it was Chelsea who took the lead, with Evra beaten by Sturridge all too easily, making his way into the box, playing the ball across De Gea with the ball being turned in by Evans to give Chelsea the one goal advantage. United tried to respond immediately, but were unable to equalise before the break. The second half, and United were two down almost immediately, when Fernando Torres’ cross was met with a superb volley from Mata, producing an unstoppable shot to give his side the 2-0 lead. Four minutes later and the game appeared dead and buried, when a free kick from the right was whipped in and met by Luiz, his header taking a deflection of Ferdinand’s shoulder, ending up in the corner of the net and giving Chelsea a 3-0 lead. Sir Alex Ferguson began to make changes, with Hernandez coming on for Young, and minutes later, United got a penalty as Evra was brought down by Sturridge on the left. The resulting spot kick was emphatically finished by Wayne Rooney, smashing his effort into the top corner and give fans a glimmer of hope of mounting some sort of comeback. Soon after, arguably United’s best defender in Rafael was replaced by Paul Scholes, with Valencia dropping to right back as United continued to pursue a way back into the game. 68 minutes in, and another penalty, this time after Welbeck was tripped by Ivanovic, Rooney once again with the honour, and duly put away the spot kick, sending Cech the wrong way. 20 minutes to go and everyone watch the game was on edge, United now pushing for the equaliser to cap a remarkable fight back into the game with a strong possibility of coming away with points from the game. Finally, with 5 minutes remaining, Giggs crossed the rebound from Rooney’s parried shot, met by a bounding Hernandez, unmarked between two defenders to head home and bring the game level at 3-3. The ordinary becoming extraordinary in the space of a half, there was still time for more drama as both sides went in search of a winner. It was the home side who went closest, with David De Gea ending up the hero of the day, as a curling free kick from Mata, heading straight for the top corner was pushed away by the young Spaniard, flying across to his left to stop an otherwise certain goal. There was time for more heroics as Cahill shot from distance only to find his shot tipped over as the game was seen out, a 3-3 draw the result of an incredible half of football. With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) David De Gea – fighting back against the criticism
I have often stated, that while there are certain weaknesses in De Gea’s game, particularly in dealing with corners and crosses, his shot-stopping ability as well as his youth would allow him to develop into a truly world class goalkeeper eventually, if given time and patience, even if giving Lindegaard a run in the starting line up for the time being was the result. In a season where certain journalists have readily taken aim at the ‘keeper that United invested so heavily in, it will have been a pleasing sight to see the Spaniard go some way to show his critics what he was about, with two world class saves to deny Chelsea a winner in a thrilling encounter. The first of these in particular was an act of brilliance, with a perfectly placed free kick by Mata, destined for the top corner, parried away acrobatically. In a game where defensive frailties resulted in United going behind, it certainly will have helped his confidence in contributing to his side coming away from the game with a point when earlier they had seemed certain to lose.
2) Defensive frailties were to blame, not De Gea
If one were to look at twitter while following the game, one might have been perplexed to see De Gea receiving blame for conceding the first goal, as well as Jonny Evans for that matter. It is incredible to think that when not to blame they were made scapegoats for a goal that was really the fault of Evra, so easily beaten on his side to allow Sturridge to put the ball in and unfortunately being turned in by Evans. With De Gea at the near post, the ball across deflected off him as it reached Evans, but it is simply not the case that the blame lies with him, nor with the other two goals for that matter. Chelsea’s second was just a brilliant goal, Mata volleying superbly to produce a shot that would never have been stopped by the best of them. Finally, the third goal took a big deflection off Ferdinand to end up in the corner, the header from which it came would likely have been on target but we could not be sure whether it would have gone in had it not come off Ferdinand. In truth, two of the goals were avoidable, with Evra being beaten all too easily for the first and perhaps some better marking in order with regards to the third. Arguably, Smalling was missed on the day and the continued absence of Vidic has certainly contributed to a weaker defensive line up.
3) Referee’s performance – not biased, just poor
With United being awarded two penalties, the second of which more debatable than the first. However, these were decision on a day in which the officiating was poor throughout. Early on Young was brought down, and although appearing to go down softly, replays showed pulling on the shirt that most would consider a foul, something that the referee may not have seen but some argue his assistant should have seen. The other, more controversial incident was when Welbeck was brought down by Cahill, with many believing it to be a penalty and could well have meant a red card for the debutant. With United gaining two penalties, there may be some that cry conspiracy that this may have happened as they were mounting a comeback on Chelsea’s lead, but these were simply incidents on an otherwise poor day for the referee.
4) Should Scholes and Hernandez have started?
Although appearing an odd decision to bring off the impressive Rafael for Scholes, the effect was there to see. There was logic to it, although the young Brazilian had looked threatening down the right, it allowed United to bring more control to the centre of midfield and pursue more avenues of attack in search of a way back into the game. Scholes has been of undoubted benefit to the side since coming out of retirement, but one wonders if United had set up differently, what direction the game would have headed in. Although pleasing to see Young back from injury, he was not really match fit, and one might consider what may have occurred if Giggs had played out wide and Scholes started in the centre. Although Giggs may not quite have the pace to run up and down the wing as much as before, his delivery from that side has it’s advantages, as evidenced with the equaliser, putting in a well placed ball for Hernandez to nod home. Speaking of which, the Mexican striker seems to be gaining in confidence since scoring a penalty against Stoke during the week, in a season that some have said to be frustrating for the young striker so far in the campaign. He looked lively when he came on, making a nuisance of himself and was rewarded with the equalising goal with 5 minutes to go. On another note, after the questions raised about his penalty taking, fans will have been pleased to see Wayne Rooney confidently step up and hammer home the spot kicks on a cold Sunday evening.
5) A point gained, or 2 points dropped?
When 3-0 down so soon into the second half, many would never have envisaged United bringing themselves back into the game, unless a response had been mounted very quickly, and even then the odds were stacked against them to actually complete the comeback and deny the opposition all 3 points. However, despite the situation, the fighting spirit was not lost and Sir Alex Ferguson’s side clawed their way back into it. From there, many will have been happy to come away with the point, rescuing something from a game that seemed destined for defeat, but one must consider whether this will be seen as points gained or lost as the season goes on. Certainly, at times United were the better side, and were probably harshly done by to go 3-0 down the way they did with two fairly soft goals, a moment of brilliance as well as some questionable decisions throughout contributing to proceedings. Regardless, the fact that they kept going to try and recover something from the game demonstrated a strong spirit within the side and must be acknowledged as an admirable quality. Other aspects could be commented on, such as the treatment of Rio Ferdinand by the fans, seemingly targeted because of the situation surrounding his brother and John Terry, but I feel with this the focus should be on the football, something that stole the show on the day for it’s entertainment and action in the second half.