Victory at The Battle of Stamford but United remain a Work in Progress.
Tom Pattison reflects on why even in victory this United side is not yet ready to compete with the very best.
Controversy reigned at StamfordBridge. A shame for the neutral as before the chaos viewers had been treated to some exhilarating football from two teams unforgiving in attack yet bafflingly accommodating in defence. Miguel Delaney’s report hits the nail emphatically on the head.
In a rerun of St James’ Park, United opened on the front foot and were richly rewarded. Runners flooded to support Robin van Persie. The Sleepy Nik predicted plundering of the Chelsea left providing a rich supply of openings. David Luiz was left exposed by an overworked Cole and Mikel’s failure to cover in front of him. Both goals came from the same point of attack and with a two goal lead United looked home and dry.
Except that they didn’t. In the same way that once we halved the deficit against Braga it felt inevitable we would win, so it seemed expected that the home side would claw their way back into the game.
The Gandalf mantra (‘you shall not pass’) is alive and well in our back five but so long as our midfield continues to operate as a turnstile we are going to face long spells of pressure against sides of real quality. Worryingly our ability to care for the ball and relieve the tension was below par granting little respite to an overworked backline. A combination of De Gea’s reflexes and the type of rearguard action Ferdinand specialises in made it tough at times, but in spite of this Chelsea not only came back from a two goal deficit but looked primed to complete the job before officialdom intervened.
It is unhelpful but comfortable to muse on players gone by as wave after wave of Chelsea attacks sliced through our central midfield. Oh for a Keane, Butt, Ince, or Whiteside. Carrick, Cleverley and Rooney tried manfully to stem the tide but the lack of specialist was apparent for all to see; yet perhaps a specialist isn’t the answer. It is hard to believe when reflecting on theFergusonera the sheer variety of teams he has created. When watching a display like this it is difficult to believe that less than five years ago a Ferguson team nullified Barcelona to the extent that they failed to score over 180 minutes in a European semi-final. That feat was achieved with a team containing such grizzled, rugged midfield destroyers as Carlos Tevez and Paul Scholes. Interestingly the absence of Vidic and deployment of Rooney in midfield is pretty much the only thing to link these radically different sides. The victory overBarcelonawas all about the tactical plan of Carlos Queiroz; he might have won few fans but the current vintage might benefit from the wisdom of the Portuguese. Comparisons may have been drawn between our attacking options with the European conquerors of 1999 and 2008 but though possessing the adventure to merit the association; the absent ability to shut up shop when necessary poses a major barrier to emulating their achievements.
This United side is great fun. The thrill of the swashbuckling opening twenty bookended by the schadenfreude of the final twenty made for a hugely satisfying triumph over a genuine rival. The suspicion remains though that like the last roaring twenties, unless we take action a major crash could be waiting for us around the corner.