Manchester United closed within a point of completing their mission of knocking Liverpool off their “perch” when they beat to Chelsea to win 2-1 at the Theatre of Dreams on Sunday. Although Chelsea still have a mathematical chance of winning the league, the Londoners won’t be interested in any sort of calculations as they know that the league is now a lost cause.
People at the start and even during the season said that this was the poorest United side ever, and that they weren’t going to win anything especially when Chelsea were demolishing opponents at the start of the season. Of course the paltry 82 points which makes United (if they win their remaining two games) the kings of England are one of the lowest ever for a champion. But the spirit, team ethic and the never say die attitude of this United team is unquestionable, which was evident in the way they pressed and harassed the defending champions on Sunday. Here is a tactical breakdown of the thrilling encounter of the Premier League’s top two.
Alex Ferguson again went into this game with a 4-4-1-1 formation, his preferred set up for the “big games” this season. Ferguson, while being a brilliant man manager, isn’t considered to have a great tactical nous. This was evident in the 90′s when used to set United up with a 4-4-2 away in Europe only to get knocked out of the Champions League time and again. Around 2005 he realized the importance of ball possession, counter attack and having 5 in the midfield. So over the last 4-5 years in all big games even in England he usually sets up with 5 in the middle. But this season he has opted for a 4-4-1-1 mainly due to Javier Hernandez’s form and Wayne Rooney becoming a revelation in his false nine role.
As this analysis is done from Manchester United’s perspective, lets analyse each player in red.
The Little Pea from Mexico has been the signing of the season,and he took very little time to reinforce that by putting the ball into the net, to be exact just 36 seconds. David Luiz couldn’t track his runs and it was his wrong positioning which lead to the first goal. Hernandez was very intelligent in the fact that he made his runs off Luiz rather than Terry. Even Chelsea preferred Luiz to mark Hernandez because of Terry’s lack of pace. But Luiz was a disaster waiting to occur and Hernandez made sure that the disaster took place yesterday by running off his shoulder with trademark blistering pace and forcing the Brazilian to err right at the beginning of the match.
The opener from Javier Hernandez was typical of him as he ran off the shoulder of the last defender and forced a mistake
Having reinvented himself after a horrible start to the season with several off-field controversies, Wayne Rooney has now found his feet and is reveling in the classic number 10 role behind the striker. In the Champions League encounter, he dragged both the center halves off their positions many a times. Yesterday Ancelotti realized that and asked Mikel to man mark him, so Rooney in the first half went slightly to the left which forced Branislav Ivanovic to come out of position and and make some tackles for which he could have been sent off. Maybe Rooney should have got on the scoresheet but it was good to see him at his best.
Simple there are no superlatives describe this Old Trafford Legend. He continues to defy logic with his astonishing performances for the Red Devils. At 37 years old he has re invented himself as an central midfielder of top quality. Again, tactically Giggs doesn’t have a fixed position like Rooney. He went forward,went left, right,tracked back and made tackles. He was thus practically all over the place stamping his class over this match. In all the big games this season the common factor has been that if Giggs has a good game then United win. Giggsy also proved to a key instigator in both the goals that United got, one by playing a delightful pass to release Park who then set up Hernandez, and the second by playing a corner short with the Korean.
The go to man for Ferguson in the big games, Park was full of energy in the first half making tackles and interceptions all over the park. His high intensity pressing meant that the Chelsea back line and Mikel didn’t get the time to distribute the ball well to their forwards. If Park displays the kind of work ethic he did on Sunday against Barcelona at Wembley, he could prove to be a huge asset in harassing the Catalan pass masters, much like what Pepe did for Real Madrid in the semi-finals.
If he had been fit all season, this title race would have been long over. Valencia, with his extraordinary pace and physical strength had Ashley Cole in his back pocket all afternoon. Ashley Cole who bombs down the pitch all day long in other game,was at one point asking Ancelotti whether he can go forward. Maybe slightly indecisive in the penalty box when he had the ball, this was a man of the match performance from the Ecuadorian. Exemplifying the role of a natural winger, Valencia was able to beat his marker for pace and deliver crosses into the box from the touchline all day long, a quality which could come in handy in stretching the Barcelona defence in the Champions League final.
Another player who has turned his season around after an indifferent start, Carrick sat in front of the back four and provided good protection to the defence throughout the match. He tracked Frank Lampard’s runs and never allowed the Englisman space to run into, play passes and bomb into the box. His calm and composed passing at the back helped United to retain the ball when Chelsea were pressing hard.
The Back Four
The defenders didn’t have much to worry about, as Chelsea were disjointed for most of the match.Vidic, as usual, was immense in winning the aerial duels with Didier Drogba and also scored the all important second goal. Rio Ferdinand has now gone 60-odd games without a booking. For a central defender to do that especially in the Premier League is astonishing. His positional sense and awareness was simply brilliant and he didn’t have to put a foot wrong in the name of tackles. John O’Shea gave a typical 6/10 solid performance. Fabio looked defensively more aware and responsible than his brother Rafael who some times gets carried away sometimes goes on runs forward.
Vidic beating his man in the air to head in the second goal
Edwin Van Der Sar
Though Edwin Van der Sar has made it clear that he would not be staying on for the next season, one really hopes that he does, given the run of amazing performances he has been putting in week in week out this season. The Flying Dutchman pulled off some good saves and was excellent in his distribution against Chelsea. Having such a cool and calm goal keeper provides assurance at the back and a sense of security to the defenders, which would again be called upon when Messi and co. come calling.
A classic United performance leaves all the United fans happy that finally Liverpool are about to be knocked off their perch as England’s best club. The Chelsea match provided good indicators that United will not roll over to Barcelona like they did in Rome and we can expect a good contest at Wembley. For now, the Premier League is all but wrapped up and United should complete the job at Ewood Park next week or the week after that at home against Blackpool.