Selection, Chelsea Superiority Send Man United Packing to Anfield

Nathan LoweAnalyst IMarch 4, 2011

El future
El futureClive Rose/Getty Images

With a trip to Merseyside against Liverpool looming on Sunday, Manchester United have little time to ruminate over the frustrating loss to Chelsea on Tuesday.

Luckily, I have way more free time than any respectable person and I've decided to spend some of it sitting here typing this bollocks.

Errors on the teamsheet

The Red Devil's loss to Chelsea on Tuesday was pretty brutal. To begin, Alex Ferguson's starting lineup was a little confusing.

At this point, we're all completely desensitized to him opting for a 4-5-1 in any major away fixtures. He even flirted with it recently away to Wolves and Wigan and went with it at home to Villa.

Opting instead for 4-4-2 in a situation like this could have been refreshing. However, marooning Darren Fletcher out wide while Michael Carrick supported Paul Scholes against Michel Essien was never going to be enough. 

Carrick has a tragic tendency to get near opposing midfielders without making a tackle. It's crucial to, at the very least, upset another player's balance and timing by putting a body on him. Carrick doesn't tackle often enough or well enough to guard Scholes in the middle.

I thought this stuff was obvious. I thought Fergie had only been playing him as a stopgap over the last couple months. I was wrong and Ferguson was wrong on Tuesday.

Scholes is necessary going forward, but he's gotta be protected. He alone has trouble anyways against more physical midfielders. In starting Lampard and Essien, Anceolotti put out a more balanced center midfield than Ferguson. Essien is the best player out of the four and our best midfielder was required in the core.

Blew it. Right formation, perhaps; wrong teamsheet.

I would have played Giggs out left, Fletcher protecting Scholes in the middle, and Nani on the right. That's our best four-man midfield, right? Without Valencia, at least. But, whatever.

Hernandez enables, Rooney delivers

Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney up front looked good on paper and performed in actual spacetime.

Hernandez was and is the great enabler: He stretches defenses leaving room for any strike partner and both Berbatov and Rooney prefer to drop in that space to pickup the ball, turn, and create play.

This played out at Stamford Bridge and Rooney benefited. He was flowing forward and using the Mexican smartly, showing fitness and marginally better touch.

Hernandez was a perfect foil for the Englishman to touch onto whenever he chose to drop in the slot.

Other times Rooney made forward runs and got in behind the defense in an impressive first half.

Chelsea's defence inexplicably let him carry the ball onto his right foot outside-left of their 18-yard box and Rooney fired a harrowing driven strike low into Petr Cech's bottom-right corner on the 28th minute.

The shot embodied perfect connection and execution. These long-range driven shots used to be Rooney's motus operanda; shall they become again not even I could deny we'd have a dangerous striker.

After five goals in five matches, and actually playing well in the outfield, showing engine, and driving forward, the Englishman may actually be entering a run of good form. His consistency has always been his achille's heel.

If the Scouser can perform in the northwest derby on Sunday, it'd be a good omen for United in the run out of a congested season's end.

Second-half tortures

The game itself contained some great football. Both clubs played as elite sides in the first half. In the second, things began to unravel for United.

David Luiz equalized for Chelsea after a scramble in the box that saw Patrice Evra drift inwards intuitively, allowing the centerback space to drive perfectly from six yards inside van der Sar's near post.

Later Chris Smalling yielded a soft yet not wholly unjust penalty which Lampard converted perfectly.

In the end, three great strikes created a 2-1 scoreline for the Blues. Nemanja Vidic was sent off late after two bookable offenses.

Credit belongs to the United goalkeeper for some ridiculous stops in the first half. Hernandez, Rooney, and Nani did well from open play as Scholes still managed to play the right passes inside the midfield despite having poor cover.

United's manager publicly bemoaned the refereeing performance, but seeming unjustices like this are investments for the future—surely it's been paid forward at this point. Expect some beneficial penalty calls, as ever, in the near future.

Every now and then we have a great game between two great sides where it's hard to find a player on either team that played poorly. This was that game and I ain't mad.

War wagon goes west

Man United now face the daunting prospect of facing Liverpool away without Vidic.

How Ferguson will line up his side is anyone's guess at this point. Hernandez has proven to everyone the effect his style has on our attack, importantly opening up play for either strike partner. Antonio Valencia probably won't feature, but is nearing fitness.

Perhaps Ryan Giggs could start in Scholes' stead, but at the very least the Red Devils will need Fletcher in the middle of the park where he can really assert himself.

Without him United have no bottle in the center of the pitch and would be certain to concede without their most important player this season in Vidic.

Ideally Rooney would start in center midfield next to Fletcher, something that should have been experimented with years ago—if not this year when Scholes was injured. Sadly this remains just a pipe dream.

However things play out, the title race is refreshingly closer and we should be looking at goals for either side come Sunday.

Note: Anytime I say "Fletcher" I also imply "Hargreaves if he was healthy."


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