Manchester United faced a trip to the fortress that is Stamford Bridge to take on Mourinho’s Chelsea. The week had been dominated by Mourinho attempting to play mind games regarding Wayne Rooney’s future and his inside information about morale at Old Trafford, which Moyes was quick to brush off.
However, United went into the game heavy underdogs after struggling for form all season and Chelsea beginning to look ever more solid.
For the crucial clash, David De Gea started in goal, with Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans in the middle. Evra and Rafael were on the left and right at the back. Michael Carrick and Phil Jones were paired up with Januzaj sat in front of them as Young and Valencia occupied the wings. Danny Welbeck spearheaded the attack.
The visitors started brightly, taking the game to Chelsea in the opening exchanges as they took hold of possession. However, despite such a start, it would be the home side who would take the lead through Samuel Eto’o. The striker worked his way by Jones to fire and watch his deflected shot loop into the net. This began Chelsea’s dominant phase in the game, encouraged by the goal they were very much in control. That said, neither goalkeeper was tested heavily, until just before half time, when Chelsea ensured the visitors went in at half time deflated, as Eto’o got on the end of a Cahill pass to score from close range.
United were hurried out for the start of the second half by Moyes, but once play had restarted, the scenario got that much harder when Eto’o beat Valencia to a rebound from Cahill’s saved header. 3-0 to Chelsea and a long way back for Moyes’s men.
Soon after, Evra limped off, replaced by Smalling as Rafael shifted to left back. Javier Hernandez then replaced Young to give United another option up front. Chelsea looked for ways to get a fourth but failed to trouble De Gea. There was time for United to get a consolation when Jones fired at goal and Hernandez reacted to turn it in to bring the score back to 3-1, but the hosts comfortably saw out the time remaining with United unable to test Cech. The defeat was made worse when in injury time Vidic was given a straight red for a late tackle. Rafael was also lucky to stay on soon after when he made a rash two footed challenge, but escaped with a booking.
With that in mind here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) United started well but ineffective when it mattered
There were some positives to take away from United’s showing. They started well in a game many expected them to struggle with. However, after Chelsea got their slightly fortunate opener, they began to take control. At times it felt as though it was not going to be United’s day. The final ball seemed to lack from passes across the area that failed to find a man to frustration when trying to get a shot away. Although United hinted at causing trouble in the final minutes of the game, they failed to pressure the home side enough as they comfortably saw the game out.
2) Relying on Januzaj to provide a spark
There is no denying the talent that Januzaj holds and the potential to be a truly great player. However, at this stage, with Rooney and Van Persie absent, it is left to the young Belgian to provide the inspiration for United’s attack and at the moment it’s too much to expect. The youngster was definitely one of the better players on the day, his most notable moment coming when he outsmarted Luiz on the left to work his way by him but his ball across the box found no one.
3) Vidic arguably unlucky to be sent off, Rafael should have been
Perhaps fatigued and a little frustrated, in his attempt to tackle Hazard, Vidic caught him late, and as a result was given a straight red card, meaning he will miss the return leg in the League Cup on Wednesday. It could be said this decision was a little harsh. Yes, it was a poor challenge, late and nowhere near the ball but not dangerous in the way that Rafael’s was. The Brazilian perhaps was allowed to stay on by the referee considering he had only just sent off Vidic seconds early. But really, there is little excuse for Rafael’s tackle. Two footed and in the air it was rash and dangerous and should have seen red.
4) Picking up for the League Cup
Sunday’s defeat could not have been good for the confidence. With the away section in good voice throughout they watched their side look blunted going forward on their way to a straightforward defeat. Although there was luck about the first goal, the other two saw Chelsea exploit United’s vulnerabilities at the back and get the second and third either side of half time. Now Moyes needs to pick them up to try and rescue the tie in the second leg of the League Cup semi final. Naturally, speculation will intensify regarding potential signings, but realistically one cannot expect anything of value until the Summer.
5) Talk of the title should finally be put to rest
Although many have known United have been too far off the pace to realistically challenge for the title, especially with so many clubs ahead of them that had to falter. Now, 14 points behind Arsenal, the focus has to be on achieving a Champion’s League place. If United are to attract top talent that they feel they can get, the prospect of European football has to be on the cards when other financially strong sides are challenging for them.