Monday, November 27, 2006

Chelsea's Point More Equal Than United's

Showdown Sunday was the obligatory soubriquet for what could also, more mundanely, be known as Manchester United Versus Chelsea - Sky coming over all Don King, as it likes to do on these occasions, in order to throw a little Vegas neon onto a gloomy late November evening in the northwest of England. The marketing of games such as these – Showdowns, Judgement Days, Days of Reckoning - is intended to suggest the likelihood of decisions being made, rights being wronged, credentials being established, slights being redressed: that, whatever happens, the world as we know it is about to be seismically upturned, and bold new truths established.

Unless, of course, the game ends in a draw.

So was yesterday just the equivalent of the finger-jabbing, hold-me-back stage of a barroom fight, where a couple of blows are thrown but resolution forestalled until a later reckoning? Or did we learn something pertinent about the destination of the 2006-07 Premiership title?

To my mind, we have established that Chelsea will probably, once again, win the league.

I suspect that yesterday’s match will prove to be something of a microcosm for this season. United struck boldly to the front, fizz and enthusiasm capitalising on a disjointed Chelsea. With Rooney dropping into the left side of midfield the home side outnumbered their opponents in that area, narrowly clustered as they were in a stodgy first-half set-up.

Tactical arrangements aside, United played that first period with a similar hunger to that which bustled Liverpool so convincingly aside when the two sides met last month. The goal was symptomatic: Carrick digging the ball out from Chelsea’s dithering grasp, from whence it was shuttled to Rooney, lurking mischievously - like a schoolboy with a water-balloon on an overpass - in the inside left channel. His pass to Saha was the sort of lacerating intrusion that the 20-year-old’s vision and daring regularly provide, and Saha’s finish was a fine response to any who have questioned the Frenchman following his difficulties in Glasgow, unfairly in light of his so-far excellent contribution this season.

Three points up, and now a goal up, United making the running.

But with the crack of his half time tactical whip, Jose Mourinho changed the game. Arjen Robben was brought on and positioned out left, hugging a touchline hitherto unloved by men in blue shirts and Michael Essien, ostensibly positioned in the bijou billet of right back, instead surveyed the entirety of that flank like it a greedy landlord in custody of an ancient familial estate.

The Ghanaian’s strength and athleticism saw his intrusions into United territory cause mortal wounds to United’s left side. The corner from which Ricardo Carvalho headed the Blues’ equaliser resulted from an Essien incision.

That aside, Chelsea, with their formation more conducive to using the width of the pitch, proceeded to intensify that brand of ‘boa-constrictor football’ - as I like to call it – that they base their success on, the force of their physical dominance (not to be confused with what is referred to as an old fashioned ‘physical’ approach, which is a different, less sophisticated beast) suppressing teams, suffocating them with their superior power.

The draw was therefore a fair reflection of the game. Why, then, does the match suggest Chelsea’s league ambitions to be more credible than those of the team three points ahead of them?

If the last week has shown up one thing, it is the marked thinness of the United squad. Upon seeing their team go a goal down against Celtic in midweek, United fans watched their manager attempt to rescue the situation via the introduction of Patrice Evra and John O’Shea. Similarly on Sunday, injuries to Christiano Ronaldo and Louis Saha facilitated O’Shea's and Darren Fletcher's leaving of the bench.

Chelsea, on the other hand, were able to call on Arjen Robben and Joe Cole in their efforts to reel in United. Neither made decisive contributions, but the principle is clear: in reserve Chelsea can call on players of real potential menace, where United have mere utility men.

Which is of no consequence if United’s first team stay fit and are capable of steering United in the successful manner in which they have propelled their club so far this season. But, facing into the muck and bullets of an English football winter and, with every point being a prized commodity these days, it seems very unlikely that United’s front-liners will dodge the perils of injury, suspension and loss of form indefinitely. Chelsea, on the other hand, would appear better equipped for the trenches.

In consolation, United have the impending return from injury of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and a January transfer window to come, in the likely event of further reinforcements being required.

Still, in much the same way as they turned the tide of yesterday’s match in its second act, the inexorable resolve, strength in depth and grim, champion’s determination that Chelsea possess should, eventually, overwhelm United.

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Blogger Fence said...

I'm not a Man U fan. At all. but I'd prefer them to win than Chelsea.

I think you may be right though, Chelsea have such depth it is hard to see them not winning in the end.

9:23 a.m.  
Blogger Sportingo said...


This is an EXCELLENT article. I am really interested in publishing some of your work.

10:31 a.m.  
Anonymous Paddy said...

An optimistic conclusion to draw from Sky's Super Sunday Showdown is that whatever the outcome, at least the premiership is going to be decided by an actual title race this year.

Chelsea are still the favourites, strangling the life out of mediocre opponents with the clinical regularity of a cold-blooded reptile, but at least United are proving worthy opponents. The species known as Utility Man may be the united's best available option to combat the Blue Menace at the moment, but Park is back from injury now, and so is Solskjaer, and roll on that January window. There may yet be some squeaky bum time in this title race...

11:56 a.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

I'd completely forgotten about Park...I feel United will defintely spend in Jan..but then so will Chelsea probably..will they activate David Villa's £100m release clause at Valencia? That they even could is the dispiriting thing for united fans...

5:04 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this game highlighted the fact that it is no longer fun to bet on football... It is far to predictable these days because of the stronghold certain clubs have. And when they go head to head... its a draw. who would have guessed it?

5:13 p.m.  

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