A soccer match featuring Chelsea versus Manchester United always makes fans sit up and take notice. Attention is paid around the world when these two giants of English club soccer meet on the pitch. This contest was even more important because I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that it was the most important of the season for Manchester United. Man U has had a difficult season their standards. Coming into this game they sit in 7th place, 6 points behind Liverpool for the vital 4th and final position for next year’s Champion’s League.
Jose Mourinho was coaching his 142 game in the Premier League and was looking for his 100th victory (in less time than it has taken anyone else). He has a pristine record as coach of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge as he has never lost. The native of Portugal just knows how to win and has done so wherever he has coached. He is 6 months into a 4 year contract with the Blues and has stated that he will only leave when owner Roman Abramovitch asks him to, so that record might continue for a long time. Despite Manchester United not being the club they have been Mourinho still thinks they are a club to be respected.
Chelsea was looking for their 6th straight victory and are challenging for the Premier League title. Manchester had lost 3 of last 4 games (in all competition) and has scored 0 goals in their last 3 games. A game that was set up to be a tale of two different seasons.
Chelsea was in their blue strips while Manchester United was in red. The visitors started off the game well with plenty of energy over the game’s opening 15 minutes. That dominance led to a quality scoring chance by Ashley Young, but he could not cash in. That came back to haunted Manchester as Chelsea created a goal out of nothing.
Against the run of play a combination of good skill by Samuel Eto’o and loose defending by Phil Jones led to a goal by Chelsea. Jones laid off the Cameroonian striker at the edge of the box allowing him to come inside towards the goal. After going by Jones Eto’o then struck a left footed shot that took a fortuitous deflection off Michael Carrick’s right foot. The ball looped past a diving David de Gea into the top left corner of the net. It was a hammer blow to Manchester as they had started brightly. Now it was Chelsea’s turn to look dangerous.
Manchester did have a chance to tie up the game in 38th minute. Due to some statuesque defending on the part of Chelsea a ball from Adnan Januzaj on the left side slid through a couple of them right to Danny Welbeck, who was just outside the 6 yard box. Unfortunately for Welbeck and United he did not manage to get much on the shot and it was right at Petr Cech. A good chance wasted.
Januzaj was a bright spot for Manchester United. The 18-year-old Belgian made some decent runs and contributions for Manchester along the left side, but nothing really came of his efforts. Still there were signs of good composure from the young man.
Another Belgian that made his mark on the game was Chelsea’s outside midfielder, Eden Hazard. Hazard with his speed and skill caused trouble for Manchester all game long. Great wide play for Chelsea and was making things happen. He almost set up Brazilian Oscar for a spectacular goal in the 42nd minute. Hazard brought the ball into the United end along the left side and chipped a ball into the box towards Oscar. With Oscar attempted a bicycle kick and connected. The shot, because he had to do all this while avoiding a timely challenge by Nemanja Vidic, looped just over the crossbar and came to rest on top of the United goal.
In the 45th minute Chelsea doubled their lead. Willian took a corner which was poorly headed away by a Manchester player. Ramires collected the ball and fed it over to Hazard. He then played it to an unmarked Eto’o, who just redirected it past a helpless de Gea. Suddenly Chelsea was getting goals from the striker position something they had been having trouble with lately. The veteran striker (goals 4 and 5 of the season) already had a brace and we had only played 45 minutes.
It must have been very deflating for Manchester to go into the half time break down 2-0 because they had played Chelsea fairly even over the 1st half. A draw was not going to be good enough for Manchester United. They were faced with having to get 3 goals in the final 45 minutes as their season and any hope of the title is on the precipice. So this was going to be the most critical 45 minutes of Manchester’s season coming up.
No changes were made by either Mourinho or David Moyes coming out of the break. You would have thought that Moyes would make some offensive changes based on the fact that his team was going to have to score a lot of goals to win the game. Before he could change his thinking Chelsea punished Manchester United for more slack marking on a set piece. In the 49th minute Chelsea earned a corner and once again Willian took it. Chelsea defender Gary Cahill got up for a free header and de Gea made a great reaction save on the line. Eto’o reacted quicker than anyone else and picked up the rebound to tap it into the empty net. Chelsea now had a very comfortable 3 goal lead and Eto’o had a hat trick.
Samuel Eto’o was starting for Chelsea in place of Fernando Torres. Not a major step down as, despite the fact that he is 32-years-old, he still has plenty of skill and experience to burn. September 2010 was the last hat trick for Eto’o. This was only the 4th hat trick ever against Manchester United and the first hat trick for Chelsea versus Man. U. since 1954. What a day for the Cameroonian!
Both Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie were out for Manchester United. The two stars have only started 7 games together this season. Manchester is undefeated (5-0-2) in those 7 games, so obviously it is imperative that they get them back healthy and playing together for the team to challenge for that last Champion’s League spot.
In a desperate move Moyes brought Xavier Hernandez in at the 56th minute for Ashley Young. Hernandez is a real poacher in the 18 yard box who causes trouble for opposing defenders. He has 6 goals in 9 games against Chelsea. The move paid off, but it was a case of too little too late. In the 78th minute Welbeck played the ball back to Jones, who found himself inside the Chelsea box for the first time on the day. Jones played a hard pass along the ground to Hernandez. Hernandez showed his goal scorer’s touch by sliding along the ground to get his foot on the ball and redirect it into the Chelsea goal.
Nothing much else happened in the game of note except that Vidic picked up a red card for a reckless two foot scissor tackle on Hazard in injury time. David Moyes will now have to do without the team captain and central defender for 3 games. They were lucky to not have also lost defender Rafael to suspension as Dowd was generous to just issue him a yellow card for a two footed tackle on Cahill.
It was a bright and open game of football. Chelsea has now played 22 games and has earned 49 points. They moved into 2nd place only 1 point behind table leaders Manchester City. Manchester is barely recognizable this season from the team that dominated English Premier soccer for the better part of two decades. Though they have done well on the road this season as this was their first defeat in 8 games or 4 months.
-Referee: Phil Dowd
-Goals: 1st Half:
17th minute: Chelsea – Samuel Eto’o
45th minute: Chelsea – Samuel Eto’o
49th minute: Chelsea – Samuel Eto’o
78th minute: Manchester United – Xavier Hernandez
-Shots on Goal: Chelsea – 6
Manchester United – 4
-Corners: Chelsea – 5
Manchester United – 4
-Man of the Match: Samuel Eto’o – Chelsea
-Final Score: Chelsea – 3
Manchester United – 1