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Chelsea vs. Manchester United: Why the Red Devils Were Down & How They Came Back

Adam HirshfieldFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2012

Chelsea vs. Manchester United: Why the Red Devils Were Down & How They Came Back

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    It's Super Bowl Sunday, but the Patriots and Giants will have a tough time living up to the standard set by Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

    In what was clearly one of the most exciting matches of the Premiership season, Chelsea went up 3-0 on United before the Red Devils came storming back in the game's final 40 minutes to knot the match at 3. The Blues remain in the fourth spot in England, while United stick in second, right on the heels of league-leading Manchester City.

    While Sunday's match was a seesaw affair, United's inspirational comeback was the stuff of which championships are made.

    As a result, it's time to examine just how it was that United went down 3-0 in the first place and then bounced back with such power and aplomb.

Too Many Defensive Holes

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    This photo perfectly sums up the weaknesses of the Manchester United defense on Sunday.

    There was—well—lots of standing around.

    Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra were too brittle, old and slow to keep up with Chelsea attackers Daniel Sturridge, Juan Mata, Florent Malouda and Fernando Torres. Meanwhile, Rafael and Jonny Evans looked too inexperienced—and too slow—to do much to thwart the Blues' attack.

    There was terrible marking on corner kicks and other balls in from the wings. (See David "Sideshow Bob" Luiz's goal off of Ferdinand in the 50th minute.)

    Though United dominated the time of possession, every counterattack proved dangerous as their defensive line seemed well off its game.

Jonny Evans Is a Terrible Soccer Player

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    To say nothing of his generally awkward appearance, Jonny Evans has had a rough go of late with the United first team.

    Sure, Daniel Sturridge made a slick offensive move to get free in the United box, but with the space he had around him, Evans had to be pretty unaware of his surroundings to let Sturridge's cross ricochet off him and past goalie David De Gea.

    Similarly, Evans's complete lack of awareness later in the second half created a great chance for Fernando Torres, as well. Evans, the last man back for United, was completely out of position in letting a poor defensive clearance float right over his head and on to the feet of the on-rushing Spaniard.

    Thankfully for United fans, that Spaniard was Fernando Torres.

    So, when is Nemanja Vidic coming back again?

Wayne Rooney's Indecision in the Offensive Third

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    Don't get me wrong, I love me some Wayne Rooney. He's an often inspirational player with incredible drive, heart and skill.

    But early in the match, every time he had the ball at his feet with some space, he seemed too focused on surveying the Chelsea defense and making the perfect pass to strike partner Danny Welbeck or one of his other on-running teammates.

    Yes, it's nit-picky to criticize the boy wonder for being too unselfish with the ball, but strikers are supposed to score goals. And in some cases, Rooney would have been better off taking advantage of the space in front of him and letting rip a lethal shot at goal.

On the Comeback Trail

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    But despite the black-hole-like appearance of the 3-0 deficit, United managed to work its way back into the match.

    How?

Howard Webb

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    After several no-calls on weak United penalty requests in the first half, the notorious referee must have been swayed by his halftime tea break.

    After Evra went down on the wing in the Chelsea box after a mildly late challenge from Sturridge, Webb pointed to the spot.

    Was it a legitimate penalty? Not to me, but I wasn't the one with the whistle between my lips.

    Rooney stepped up and capitalized for the Reds to make it 3-1 in the 57th minute.

    About 12 minutes later, following a nice United attack, Welbeck created some space at the top of the Chelsea box and was clipped by Branislav Ivanovic.

    Again, Webb pointed to the spot. And again, Rooney beat Cech, this time to the goalkeeper's left.

    Again, a controversial penalty. This one seemed a bit more legitimate, as there was definitely contact, but it's still a questionable call at that point in the match.

    It was 3-2 with about 20 minutes to play.

    United fans can send early Christmas cards to Webb in care of the FA at:

    Wembley Stadium
    PO Box 1966
    London
    SW1P 9EQ

Wayne Rooney's Coolness From the Spot

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    Sure, world-class strikers are supposed to put home their penalties in meaningful matches against major rivals.

    But Wayne Rooney has had his struggles from the penalty stripe.

    Sunday he had no such problems.

    His first penalty was roofed in unstoppable fashion, and as tension continued to mount, he calmly slotted his second past Cech into the side-netting.

    Pure class from one of England's top goal-scorers.

David De Gea

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    No, the 21-year-old did not play the perfect match between the pipes for United. He did allow three goals, after all (though none were really his fault). And he, like his defenders, looked indecisive at times in dealing with crosses from the Chelsea wings.

    But the youngster from Madrid stood tall when it counted, making two huge saves in second-half injury time, including a remarkable diving swat of a Mata curler headed for the upper corner.

    With Anders Lindegaard on the shelf for six weeks with an ankle injury, the hyperopic Spaniard will get his chance to earn his first-team spot. And De Gea acquitted himself well on Sunday at Stamford Bridge.

Never-Say-Die Attitude

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    Yes, following the two penalties, United had all the momentum in the world. But the Red Devils didn't rest on their laurels.

    Rooney, Welbeck and Chicharito kept up the pressure. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Evra kept making useful runs. Michael Carrick kept winning the ball back in the defensive midfield. And Sir Alex Ferguson kept his foot on the gas pedal.

    Leading up to Javier Hernandez's brilliant goal in the 84th minute, it had been all United. And even after that, they kept up the pressure into injury time.

    Sure, the referee's decisions allowed United back into this match, but it was the heart of a champion that earned them a crucial point following their incredible comeback Sunday at the Bridge.

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