Chelsea’s unbeaten record in the new season was clinically wiped away with a 3-1 victory at Old Trafford in what was arguably one of the craziest games of all times. Chelsea were at times much the better side, but as frustration and bewilderment grew, so did Manchester United, and the job was effectively done and dusted at half-time.
The match started brightly for Chelsea, Ramires could have scored a goal within three minutes had it not been for a good De Gea save. But five minutes later, Young’s free-kick was met by a powerful Smalling header to give Manchester United a lead. Replays suggest that Smalling was offside, much to Chelsea’s annoyance. But Chelsea had chances of their own, Torres with a scuffed shot wide and Ivanovic with a header saved by De Gea. But then a golden opportunity: Mata found compatriot Torres who unselfishly passed to Ramires, but with the whole goal gaping, he could only sidefoot to De Gea who saved. Chelsea were all over United, who seemed uncharacteristically permeable at the back, but it was Chelsea who were not water-tight moments later. Allowed to cut in by Mata, Nani hit an absolute rocket into the top corner which Cech had no chance of reaching. 2-0, and against the complete running of the half, to Manchester United. The weird half was rounded off at the stroke of half time, Jones and Nani combining, but when John Terry’s clearance deflected off Nani and into the path of Wayne Rooney, he could not miss, and 3-0 and cruising, Chelsea had no way back it seemed.
Second half, and Chelsea make a substitution, Lampard off, Anelka on. And 30 seconds in, Anelka made a difference. Out on the left, he cut inside and fed a delightful ball into the path of Torres, who, without thinking, lifted it over De Gea’s head. A first goal for Torres this season, but with Chelsea still 3-1 down, he did not celebrate. Any Chelsea momentum was seemingly crushed moments later, Nani sent in another rocket which deflected off onto the crossbar, and when he burst into the box for the rebound, Bosingwa was judged to have fouled him. With the crossbar still shaking, Dowd, who was having a stinker of a match, awarded a penalty to United. Rooney stepped up, but slipped as he went to hit it in comical scenes similar to John Terry’s slip in Moscow, and it went harmlessly wide in what was arguably the most off-target penalty miss in history.
But that lifeline was not capitalised on my the inspired Torres, who missed an even bigger shocker. Through on goal and waltzing past De Gea, all Fernando had to do was left-foot it into the goal. Somehow, from 6 yards out, he scuffed it wide, much to the delight of the home supporters. Any hope of salvaging something was gone, with Chelsea’s momentum dwindling in the final few moments.
A first league defeat inflicted on Villas-Boas since way back in April 2010, but so many positives to take from the game too. Howlers, drama, penalties, misses, slips, rockets, this match had it all. So early on into the season, this match would have provided fans with a glimmer of how the season would pan out. How AVB would have liked to have copied Jose Mourinho, who won his first match against Sir Alex and only lost once against him in ten encounters.
Torres seemed back to his better self, with confidence high, but many fear all his hard work in the match would have been wiped away with that miss. Mata again was good but it was the normally reliable Ashley Cole who was culprit on several occasions, letting the superb Nani in too many times. With just one clean sheet in eight league matches now, AVB knows he will have to shore up his defence, although recent matches show that that is the last of his priorities, with attacking his main motto.
A loss, a gap widened, but Chelsea will surely hope to bounce back, starting with Fulham in the League Cup on Wednesday. Whether AVB decides to rest a few players or not, only time will tell.
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