Bayern Munich must have watched the Premiership showdown at Old Trafford earlier today with great pleasure, and possibly even amusement -- so THIS is how Man United fare in the big games without Wayne Rooney.
Meanwhile the English superstar himself, watching from the executive boxes, would have been disgusted with what he saw: a lack of ideas; no passion or urgency; and managerial incompetence from Sir Alex Ferguson. With the League Cup already won, United were top of the league and had a manageable path to the Champions League Final - the potentially perfect season orchestrated by Rooney is now in danger of falling apart without him.
Sir Alex stated before kick-off that this was a must win game, but his tactics and team selection suggest otherwise. With Rooney out, and Chelsea coming off of a 7-1 win over Villa, he knew a draw would be a fairly good result. But whenever Ferguson and United go into important games with a 'draw' mentality, it almost always backfires.
Against Liverpool they went in with the same mentality. It was one of those dreadful performances that, because they escaped with the three points, people like to describe it as 'professional'. If Torres or Benayoun had tucked away their easy chances at the end then it would have been a different story. And it was a different story a few days later in Munich where a more clinical side did take advantage of United's wasteful play, and were actually unlucky the scoreline did not emphasise their dominance.
So today, in the biggest game of the season so far, Ferguson went for sentiment over sensible. Scholes, Giggs and Neville may be okay as the occasional back-ups, but they should not all be starting, and certainly not against Chelsea. Not when they played a European away game a few days earlier and Chelsea are fresh. And definitely not when you're already missing your best player.
With Scholes, Fletcher, Park, and Giggs all apparently playing in central midfield, Valencia was the only option on the wing and was easily neutralised. With the midfielders unable to tackle and unable to complete even simple passes, this left Berbatov up front by himself with nothing to feed off but scraps. Only a week earlier he had linked up beautifully with Nani against Bolton, but apparently form is irrelevant to Ferguson, who dropped Nani to the bench.
Chelsea strolled about the park with all the time in the world, and without even needing to create many chances, while United panicked. Joe Cole's early goal was wonderful and truly inventive stuff, in stark contrast to United's unimaginative gameplan of hoofing the ball long and straight back to Chelsea.
As the minutes ticked away and fans screamed for substitutions, Ferguson calmly watched as his team embarrassed themselves and created absolutely nothing in the way of an equaliser. What exactly did he see that made him think no changes needed to be made? Why did it take until gone 70 minutes before he finally got rid of Scholes and Park for Nani and Macheda (both of whom should have been starting anyway)? There was absolutely no sign until those two came on that United were ever going to score.
Sure, Park was fouled in the box and it should have been a penalty, but that's not the point. Either is the fact that Drogba's goal was a mile offside. Manchester United are the English Champions and should be playing like it. It's not Mike Dean's fault that the first real chance on goal United created was a lucky ricochet off of Macheda's chest (and/or arm) and into the net in the 81st minute.
United fans will be angry with the referee today, and perhaps they should be, but you can't blame him for the loss. Blame the players, and blame the manager. Blame Chelsea for being better.
If Ferguson really wanted to win this game he would have gone 4-4-2 and attacked. He needed to send a message, he needed to show Chelsea and the rest of the league that Manchester United are the Champions, they want four-in-a-row, and they sure as hell aren't a one-man team. Instead the message sent was that he is scared of Chelsea, and he doesn't think his team are good enough without Wayne Rooney.
In a couple of months time if Chelsea do look back on this victory as the day they won the league, they’ll remember how they didn't so much as wrestle the title from the Champions, but rather how United meekly let them take it.