Match in a sentence
Juan Mata’s 87th minute goal kept Chelsea’s Champions League hopes alive as the Blues defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford.
- Rafa Benitez made three changes to the side that defeated Basel midweek in the Europa League. Demba Ba led the line, while Victor Moses, Juan Mata and Oscar played behind the Senegalese striker. Ramires and Frank Lampard played in midfield, while Ashley Cole made his return to the starting line up at left back. Eden Hazard was unavailable due to an injury, and John Terry started the match on the bench.
- Sir Alex Ferguson made five changes to the side that drew at the Emirates last week. Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia played behind Robin Van Persie. Anderson joined Phil Jones in midfield, while Nemanja Vidic returned to the starting line up. Anders Lindegaard started in net, as David De Gea was rested.
- Manchester United claiming the title in April fizzed out the magnitude of the match, as United was content with nullifying Chelsea’s strengths and breaking on the counter – unfortunately for the Red Devils, things didn’t go as planned.
- The match lacked a competitive atmosphere, specifically in the opening half, as United didn’t have much intent on dictating the match, while Chelsea looked fatigued from their encounter against Basel on Thursday night. The wide areas were nullified, as wingers on both sides did an exceptional job in tracking back to help their defenders. Chelsea found themselves dropping into two banks of four without the ball, while Cleverley, the most advanced United midfielder on the attack, dropped deep to create a midfield three when Chelsea had possession of the ball.
- The midfield was stifled, and both sides relied on players from deep positions to anchor them forward. United failed to close down David Luiz, and the Brazilian centreback drove forward, playingpositive passes into the midfield. For United, Phil Jones found himself sitting deeper and playing passes forward and into wide areas. The England international also found himself makingsurging runs into advanced positions, but unfortunately his final ball was poor. With Ramires and Lampard dealing with Cleverley and Anderson, and vice-versa, both sides needed a spare outlet to drive them forward – which is why Jones and Luiz were significant in the first half.
- United’s midfield was constructed to stop Benitez’ men from playing, as Cleverley often dropped deeper, while Giggs occasionally played narrow. Ramires usually has better games when paired with Mikel, because he’s able to push forward with his penetrating runs – when paired with Lampard the Brazilian is cautious about going forward. Frankly, there wasn’t much space for the Brazilian to attack, but with Oscar moving central later in the first half, Ramires was able to move further up the pitch. Both midfields were nullified, and with United lacking a creative spark on the pitch, Chelsea had the advantage with the imperious Mata.
- Van Persie and Ba, two of the top strikers in the league, failed to have a significant impact on the match due to the lack of service provided. Van Persie could have used Michael Carrick, Shinji Kagawa or Wayne Rooney, seeing as United lacked a link between midfield and attack. Although, they did possess a threat on the counter, the final ball from out wide was poor. Giggs created the United striker’s best chance, but the Dutch international struck the ball inches wide of the net. Chelsea played many long balls to Ba, but the striker struggled to out muscle Vidic in aerial duels, and often found himself in 2v1 situations with the Serbian defender and Jonny Evans. Both strikers were successful dropping deeper to hold up the ball and link play with the midfield, rather than posing a threat in the final third.
- Mata was the best player on the pitch by a mile, and there was no surprise that he was the difference maker. Initially, the Spanish midfielder struggled to have an influence on the match, because of United’s congested midfield. Mata drifted deeper, looking for space to exploit and passes to pick, but as the game wore on, the Spaniard’s influence increased. The Spaniard’s ability to locate areas on the pitch is superb, and they were vital against United. He drifted over to the right flank frequently and found pockets of space in between the lines to receive the ball. His impact on the match wasn’t as significant as games prior, but he was the type of player United lacked going forward.
- United introduced Alexander Buttner for Cleverley and Rooney for Anderson, as they became a 4-4-1-1. Buttner moved out to the left, Rooney played behind Van Persie, which pushed Giggs into the midfield. The aim was to have Rooney work in between the lines and provide United with an attacking impetus. Rooney nearly played Van Persie through alone, but Luiz intercepted the pass. With United pushing forward, and having less numbers in midfield, Mata had more space to work in, and Chelsea posed a larger threat going forward.
- Benitez introduced Fernando Torres to the match and pushed Mata to the left, and although Torres didn’t have a substantial influence on the match, the tactical change to a 4-4-2 presented the Blues with a goal. Ramires back heeled the ball to Oscar after a rampaging run from United’s box, and the Brazilian squared the ball to Mata, whose deflected shot trickled past Lindegaard. Nathan Ake replaced Mata for defensive cover and Hernandez was introduced with minutes to play, but Rafael’s late red card dismissed United’s hopes of getting a late equalizer.
- Overall it was a disappointing match that lacked intensity and energy – frankly a moment of quality saved us from witnessing a dire scoreless draw. In their 65th game of the season – more than any team in the Premier League, Chelsea was able to secure three vital points ahead of their monumental midweek showdown against Tottenham. Benitez’ men become the third side to defeat United at Old Trafford this season, and a win against Spurs should put them in pole position to qualify for the Champions League next season.
“Sometimes you have players growing, and Mata is one of them. He could be Player of the Year for what he’s done for us, scoring goals and giving assists,” Benitez said.
“This is a team in transition and there are young players who need to settle. You have to show experience in some games. Next year they will have more experience and the team will be even better,” he said.