Advantage Chelsea but title is still Manchester United’s to lose

The stench of defeat is unbearable, as is the joyous celebration of the the non-Man Utd football family. We love to build up teams and then knock them down, and as far as the mob is concerned it’s time for United to be knocked down.

Since yesterday a lot has been said (hardly in praise of United, hardly in criticism of Chelsea) about what happened (during and after the game) at Stamford Bridge. Personally I would have preferred a repeat of last year in terms of team selection – send out the reserve squad and give your first-teamers a day off. Throw the fucking game and focus on winning the league on goal difference and having your players fresh for Barcelona.

Kudos to Ferguson for not giving into such edgy tactics. He rested Ronaldo and Tevez – two players who have played 32 games each in the league (29 starts), but he played everyone else that he could. He gambled with Vidic, and the brave / stupid Serbian put his head in danger, got kneed in the mouth in the process, lost a tooth that ripped through his lip, lost enough blood to make a professional football in his prime dizzy for a good 15 minutes, and had to be taken off.

Bloody VidicAlong with Rooney, both are slight doubts for the Barcelona game although knowing Ferguson he’ll give them every chance to get fit and ready for Tuesday night. Again, Vidic probably deserves a rest and so does Rooney but United don’t have a 3rd leading striker, and while that didn’t matter as much last season, it sure as hell is hurting this time around.

Overall, Chelsea outfought Manchester United and were the better side at the end of 90 minutes. If that rugby tackle on Ronaldo had been given as a penalty things might have been different but that’s symptomatic of a general problem with football and taking referees to task on every single decision isn’t worth it anymore. Shame on SAF for going on a whinge and while he’s doing this to protect his players from excessive criticism it’s not a classy thing to do and after doing this for over 20 years, he should know better.

There were a few other key incidents that deserve special mention.

First, Rooney’s goal – finally boy wonder scores against Chelsea and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.

Then there was that on-pitch argument between Drogba and Ballack. Now I’m not that blinkered as to cast aside a on-pitch squabble between two senior members of the team as a ‘staged event’ but I’m surprised nevertheless that this incident hasn’t received more coverage. It’s the sort of stuff that can lead to handbags (and if it had been a training ground thing without the pressure to get on with the match, who knows?) and for the event to get almost zero coverage is bad journalism from the MSM.

Rio Ferdinand v ChelseaInstead, we’re focusing on the fact that Rio kicked a ball in anger and because of that his England captaincy is in danger. What bollocks. The man apologised immediately and that should be the end of the matter, but it gets coverage for no good reason. He didn’t piss in a cup in public, did he (then again, he didn’t piss in a cup at all, which is an easy thing to throw at him when something goes awry)?

And we’re focusing on the post-match scuffle between United’s subs (mainly Patrice Evra) and the Chelsea groundstaff (mainly just one big guy), which is great because they have such captivating photos for it. There’s one where Evra launches into a run only to be stopped immediately by the stewards, and then there’s one where the Chelsea ground staff member is swinging a punch at Evra, and there are a couple more where Evra is tumbling over, possibly because of how he’s being pulled away by the security in the midst of the scuffle.

Evra scuffleIt’s obvious, watching the photos, that either Evra or the guy running over swinging a punch said something provocative. While I hope it’s not our own man he’s just as likely to have started the war of words. What I don’t get is why someone in the ground staff would get this worked up over the visiting team’s subs not getting off the pitch in time – if this had been at Old Trafford I would have gone on and on about lack of respect shown to guests, but I guess that doesn’t happen in football, eh?

And finally, there’s no reason to fault the tactics or team selection. The players were tired, United are dealing with a tight schedule and of the 3 players who could physically match Chelsea in midfield (or at least give it a shot), one is 19 yrs old, the other is the 5th choice midfielder and returning from injury and the 3rd has now played 2 games at right back because of injuries to Nemanja Vidic. Blaming the team selection is myopic – the team gave it their best shot and it didn’t come off. We weren’t good enough, and while that’s hard to stomach, that’s the only real reason.

United welcome Barcelona on Tuesday, Chelsea welcome Liverpool on Wednesday. 50-50 on both matches, although both Chelsea and Barcelona have the advantage (the former with the away goal and the latter with the rested players and home clean sheet). After that it’s West Ham at home and Wigan away for Manchester United and Newcastle United away and Bolton at home for Chelsea. The league could be wrapped up by Monday night (Chelsea play Newcastle then), so fingers crossed.

This is no time to panic – as long as United can get a result against Barcelona they will still have everything to play for and the advantage in terms of goal difference. We can slip, of course, but I think that slip has come and is now hopefully gone. The title, at the very least, is United’s to lose.

Oh, and if there was ever a sport that drove a man to drinking, football is it.

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