Chelsea 0-1 Manchester United: Five things we learned
1 Wayne Rooney relishes playing the pantomime villain
Wayne Rooney came into this match with an impending Football Association ban hanging over him and with his every glance at a television camera sure to be scrutinised, though focusing in on the striker must have felt near impossible at times. The forward was a blur of energy, tracking back to hack clear Chelsea attacks, then breaking down field at such pace as to leave his opponents gasping. The hosts had feared he might react like this. “All the controversy might just spur him on a bit,” Frank Lampard had said in the build-up. Rooney seemed to relish the abuse here, the goal he side-footed accurately beyond Petr Cech from Ryan Giggs’ glorious pull-back his ninth in 14 club games. Once again, revelling his role just off the main striker, he looks the player England hoped they would take to South Africa last summer rather than the snarling bundle of aggression who wilted at the finals.
2 Chelsea can be exposed down their right side
With David Luiz ineligible it is on occasions such as this that Chelsea miss Alex, absent since the end of last year with a knee complaint, if only because the Brazilian’s presence in the centre of defence would allow Branislav Ivanovic to venture out to right-back and help plug a pressure point. José Bosingwa is a Portugal international of pedigree and an attacking threat down the flank but, too often, he is exposed defensively. Given that Ramires, asked to play on the right of midfield, is happier in a central berth and tends to wander infield, Bosingwa can easily become isolated. So Michael Carrick’s wonderfully raked pass, gathered by Giggs on the gallop as if this was a throwback to the early 1990s, was always likely to leave the Portuguese floundering. Chelsea never recovered their shape and, within seconds, they had been breached.
3 For Fernando Torres, the
nightmare is merely prolonged
This club yearns for Fernando Torres to come good. They dismiss the £50m price tag as irrelevant, keen as they are to remove the burden of expectation the Spaniard carries into every game, yet every scoreless occasion merely chips away at the World Cup winner’s confidence. The statistics are damning: this was a 12th scoreless game for club and country, his worst sequence since 2005, and he is now 617 minutes without a goal since moving from Liverpool. There were the same flashes of promise that have flared in most of his games for Chelsea, the odd gliding run, a turn or a shimmy to suggest his quality, and a thumping header that drew the best from Edwin van der Sar. But he remains a shadow of his former self. There were other occasions when he looked lost, stripped of all confidence as if wallowing in the memory of how good he once was.
Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand disapproved of one tumble and confronted him, sandwiching him like bullies in the school playground. He was even booked for diving at the end.
4 Welcome back, Michael Carrick
There were some outstanding performances from Manchester United players here – Giggs and Rooney were all industry and effervescence. , and Ferdinand – for a player making his first appearance in two months – was commanding and reassuring. Yet it was Carrick, all calm authority at the base of midfield, who quietly dominated this contest.