Manchester United kept themselves in touch with City at the top of the Premier League after a courageous fight back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 today at Stamford Bridge. The result may leave United 2 points behind City but they will take that after this run of games, and though they failed to win today there are many positives which United will take from the game that will only strengthen the team.
The 1st half was very even affair, United though the better side. Chelsea looked to keep it very tight at the back but United played some lovely intricate football around the Chelsea box. Chelsea themselves looking more cautious but still carried a threat from Mata who was moved into the centre of Midfield who looked to dictate Chelsea’s play. On the whole though much of their play was somewhat scrappy.
With United looking threatening going forward it wasn’t long before referee Howard Webb had his first big decision to make. Twisting and turning in the Chelsea penalty area Ashley Young, back in the United line up for the first time since Fulham away, was tugged and bungled down. The referee however for saw nothing in it and waved United pleas for a penalty away. The decision was baffling to say the least. Minutes later, more penalty appeals from United as Danny Welbeck was brought down on the edge of the box. Once again Howard Webb waved play on. As it turns out, the foul, which it clearly was, was outside the box. But by not giving United the foul Webb saved himself from having to make a big decision in the aftermath; Cahill was last man and it would have been a close call to whether he would have been sent off. Welbecks touch though was taking him away from goal so the likelihood is that he Cahill would have stayed on the pitch.
Chelsea had yet to cause Uniteds defence any real problems, perhaps just one ball into the box which David De Gea should have caught rather than weakly punching away. This, however, would be the only moment today which De Gea can be questioned on, his performance today was excellent and later he would save Uniteds skin. Rafael had been called in at Right Back to cover Chris Smalling who had picked up a knock in training on Friday. Rafael, best loved for his attacking attributes was today a rock in his defencive duties. But as happens so often it is the team with the lesser threat who strikes first, today was no exception.
Chelsea took the lead via a Johnny Evens own goal in the 36th minute. Sturridge had the better of Patrice Evra inside the United area, beating him far too easily with some quick footwork to get to the touchline where he closed on Uniteds goal. De Gea closed him down but Sturridge’s cross clipped off his foot onto the unlucky Evens before the ball found its way into the goal.
Uniteds response was to attack, and attack they did. It was a brilliant response from the Reds who put Chelsea under enormous pressure in pursuit of an equaliser. Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal had to save well from both Rooney and Welbeck. It was United though who went in at the break behind. The response to Chelsea’s goal gave great hope that there were goals in this for United in the 2nd half, and if they could keep up the pressure and pace that they had shown since the goal, they would surely turn this around.
However, in 5 crazy minutes at the start of the 2nd half what looked a game full of promise for United looked like one that was out of their reach. Just 24 seconds after the restart Torres crossed delightfully into the United box, where Mata found himself with all the time in the world on the corner of the six yard box to lash in a brilliant volley. There was no stopping it, though question marks over Velancia’s tracking back may be asked. Another momentary lapse in concentration just minutes later allowed Luiz a free header from a Mata free-kick. Luck was on Chelsea’s side, as it was for the 1st goal, as Luiz’s header came off both his and Rio Ferdinands shoulders. Luck it may have been, but once again it was far too easy for Chelsea to strike at Uniteds goal.
Three lapses in concentration and two slices of luck and United found themselves 3-0 down at Stamford Bridge with less than 40 minutes remaining. Most teams would have let their heads drop and taken a tactic of damage limitation. But not Manchester United. United never say die, and as impossible as it may have seemed, looked to fight their way back into a game they could ill afford to lose.
The come back began in the 58th minute when Sturridge clumsily brought down Evra in the box. This time Webb had little doubt and pointed to the spot. It was Wayne Rooney, back from injury, who stepped up to take it. Before today he had missed 3 penalties this season, scoring only 2, but he emphatically put the penalty into the top of the Chelsea net. With over half an hour remaining United looked to control midfield once again and put pressure on Chelsea, coming forward at every opportunity. The pressure paid off when Rooney fed Welbeck in the box in the 69th minute. Welbeck looked to pick the ball up and position himself for a strike but was lazily clipped by Ivanovic which lead to a second United spot kick. Having had two different penalty takers in the week against Stoke, and with Rooney’s fifty, fifty strike rate from the spot, it was a little surprising (not to mention tense) when it was Rooney again who stepped up to the pressure. He showed no sign of that pressure though as he convincingly scored again, sending Cech the wrong way. Incidentally United became the first team in the Premier League to have four consecutive goals from from four consecutive penalties.
With Fernando Torres failing to get a shot off when he was in a great position at 3-1 it was United who now looked like there would be no doubt that they would peg Chelsea back. There was always a threat from Chelsea on the break though and there were a few nervy moments when Uniteds defence had to be on their metal. They were though, Johnny Evens looking extremely composed alongside Ferdinand who was having to put up with a torrent of boos from Chelsea fans for being the brother of Anton Ferdinand. I could barely believe what I was hearing, but unfortunately football fans (not just Chelsea fans) can be rather ridiculous.
With Chelsea coming under more and more pressure from United Villa-Boas looked to sure Chelsea’s midfield up by bringing on Oriol Romeu. This move did look to have the desired affect for a little while, the game was now less open which suited Chelsea far more. Ferguson also looked to change things with Hernandez replacing Young and Paul Scholes coming on for Rafael. United kept plugging away though and got their just rewards in the 84th minute. Excellent work down the right by Valencia, who was now playing from Right Back, led to a cross into the the Chelsea box where Rooney controlled the ball and got a decent shot off which Cech could only parry wide. Giggs retrieved the ball and with plenty of time and space on the touchline, picked out Hernandez who’s fantastic movement away from Luiz aloud him a free header past Cech to jubilant celebrations.
With just minutes remaining it was United still on the offensive, looking to complete the come back. Unfortunately the pressure never quite led to that one final chance to complete an epic turn around. There were half hearted appeals for a third penalty when Luiz looked to control a United cross with his arm when it bounced through the crowded box. Giving a penalty for that would have been harsh as his arm was close to his side and there was no movement towards the ball. Cech was called into action from Michael Carrick and Rooney shots but they were efforts which you would be expecting the ‘keeper to make.
As it tuned out, it was Chelsea who came closest to taking all three points at the end but it was David De Gea who came to Uniteds rescue three times in injury time. The United ‘keeper has come under enormous pressure from the media and his confidence must be disparagingly low. However, he equipped himself well today, looking comfortable and assured with his decisions. Yes, there was the cross early on when he should have gathered but from then on he never gave anyone anything to question him. In fact, had another ‘keeper been in goal for United today it is quite possible that there would have been a final twist to this game.
A minute into injury time Luiz won a foul 20 yards from the United goal. When Mata struck the dead ball beautifully over the wall it looked to everyone that it was about the nestle into the top corner. However, De Gea at full stretch pulled off a world class save to claw the ball away for a corner. You will be hard pressed to see a better save in the Premier League this season. He was called into action again just two minutes later when Essien thundered a shot towards goal, De Gea got two stong hands onto to turn over for a corner. His work for the day wasn’t quite over and had to make one more excellent save from a fine Cahill 20 yard effort. De Gea’s performance today will help his confidence no end and should also help quieten those who are getting on his back.
It was a fabulous come back today from United, but there is a sense of disappointment too. This was a game United must have felt confident of winning with Chelsea missing many key players. Not to have won is a blow having gone into the game with confidence. But there is much to be taken from today; United showed that never say die spirit that is key in the run in to the title, there was also a lot of excellent football played going forward and the goals are coming once again. Finally, with Young and Rooney back from injury and Nani, Jones and Clverley not far away the squad is becoming stronger at the vital time.
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