My last article attempted to reflect upon last weekend’s games the results of which couldn’t have gone better. If last weekend was a sweet result, this weekend looks like the icing on the cake. Without dwelling too much on the intricacies, I’ll try to put down a few observations I made.
This kind of a battering from United was long time coming. For far too long this season United were living by the skin of their teeth, eking out hard fought wins when they should’ve been in cruise control and throwing games away from winning positions.
United’s last five games leading up to yesterday were 2-0 win against Spurs, 2-1 win against Wolves, the tepid goalless draw against City, 2-2 at Villa and a 2-0 against a nine man Wigan totalling 11 points out of a possible 15. Not a very impressive run I’d say going by United’s standards.
With Rooney’s contract saga put to bed for the time being and the striker himself being recuperated in America things were starting to fall into place for United.
The key elements of United’s line up and formation were that Ferdinand and Vidic were back at the heart of defence for a few games now and were starting to look as tight as back in 2008 and 2009. The midfield was devoid of Scholes, Giggs and Fletcher. Up front Sir Alex had his two preferred marksmen, hopefully rediscovering their form.
Things looked pretty good on paper. The score line however shredded all speculations and predictions and tossed them out of the window. A massive 7-1 win saw United climb to the summit and throw the gauntlet down. Five goals for Berbatov put him in an exclusive league with Shearer (Newcastle United), Andy Cole (Manchester United) and Jermaine Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur) as the only four players to have scored five goals in a Premiership game. He’d have gone one better if not for a brilliant save by Robinson in the dying stages of the match.
As for Rooney, he had an excellent game too, setting up two goals and looking sharp overall. His brilliant one-two with Park resulted in a well deserved goal for the Korean. Rooney looked like he was becoming the player we had come to love last season.
Anderson made his return count with an assist and looked confident overall. On the right wing Nani, United’s best midfielder by far this season got a goal, an assist and looked pretty much unstoppable all afternoon. The only thing I dislike about his game is taking pot-shots from the distance when there are better options and going down far too easily when challenged. If he can work on those he can be even better.
In the defence I was most impressed by Rafael who possibly had his best game so far. Performances like this should do his confidence a lot of good. Ferdinand and Vidic were starting to look like the impregnable wall after a long, long time. Evra by far has been United’s most consistent of the back four and proved again why he is amongst the best in the business.
The highlight of this game however for me was for the first time in ages United put up an inspiring performance without the two veterans Giggs and Scholes. Sorry if I keep harping on about it but if you look at their individual and collective influence over the last few games it was quite worrying to say the least. Yesterday’s game however proved that United can put up match-winning displays even without them. This for me is the best result from the match considering their impending retirements.
This game churned out some interesting statistics. United went to top of the scoring table with 35 goals to their name. Dimitar Berbatov leapfrogged Tevez to the top of individual scoring statistics. Nani sat pretty on top of the assists list with 8 to his name. United were also joint top on goal difference with 19. They also boasted the least number of defeats still at zero. Most importantly they were now ahead in the title race with 31 points. Is someone still saying United are not playing well?
Now all they needed was for Chelsea to draw or lose to Newcastle United. Fast-forward to lunch time today.
Chelsea are in a crisis of sorts if you like. The recent resignation of Ray Wilkins, injuries to Terry and Lampard and the recent dip in form have contributed to rumours about Ancelotti’s sack halfway through his second season in charge.
Chelsea’s last five games going into this weekend were 2-1 win at Blackburn, 2-0 loss at Liverpool, 1-0 win at Fulham, 3-0 loss to Sunderland at home and a 1-0 loss at Birmingham City totalling a paltry six points out of a possible 15, thus bringing United level with them on points.
It was crucial for Chelsea to win by a huge margin if they were to stamp their authority on the league yet again. On a frosty day in the North-East, snow had to be scraped off the pitch in order to allow the game to be played. Newcastle looked sprightlier of the two and whilst Chelsea were still waking up Andy Carroll put one past Cech much to us Northeners' delight.
It continued to be that way until just before the half time whistle when Kalou equalised for Chelsea. In the second half however Chelsea looked a lot more active and agile and created some wonderful chances. Drogba even scored but it was ruled out for ball handling. The ended frustratingly as Chelsea slipped to second, separated from Arsenal only by goal difference.
Instead of focussing on the game I am now looking at Ancelotti’s future at Stamford Bridge. True, Chelsea won the title last year against a United that had no Ronaldo in its ranks anymore. However it was by a solitary point. They started this season with a massive 6-0 thumping of West Brom and held a six point lead over United. They’ve now not only surrendered the six points but gone behind by a further two.
This looks like Scolari all over again. Back in 2008-09 when Scolari was appointed Chelsea manager, they looked rejuvenated and after Mourinho’s catastrophic departure and Grant’s great stabilising act. However a 3-0 defeat to United in mid-January saw Scolari booted out. It could be Ancelotti’s turn, come New Year 2011.
In my last article I had a picture of Mancini and Ancelotti with the title “The Sack Race?”. Mancini is another front runner in the sack race because his lords and masters think pumping money into a team and buying a whole lot of big name players will make them champions overnight. This seems to be the case with Chelsea too. I have dedicated an entire article to vent this particular frustration of mine with club owners.
I am surprised that both Chelsea and Manchester City fail to look up to their cross-town neighbours (Arsenal and Manchester United respectively) and realise that great teams are built over years with more time rather than money invested in them. When they will learn, if at all they do is something that needs to be seen. But to be honest, I couldn't care less becauseI am on top of the world heading into work Monday morning, knowing fully well, we’re on top of the table!