Man Utd vs Chelsea FA Cup Quarter-final Match Report (Replay awaits after Chelsea fight back)By: Ian | March 11th, 2013
Much like midweek, this report is hard to write. It’s main purpose is to push the annoying picture at the top of the last post out of sight down the page. I’ve heard some people say that Utd fans don’t get as much excitement and feeling from their team’s football compared to the drama of watching, say, a team like QPR fight against relegation because Utd ‘win most of the time anyway’. Rubbish. True, Utd do tend to win more often than not, but anyone who is even vaguely aware of Utd’s weak would argue against that claim with enthusiasm. Looking to throw off the murky shadow of Madrid and ‘that red card’, Utd returned to the Old Trafford pitch to take on visitors Chelsea for a place in the FA Cup semi-final. With Utd’s reputation for getting disappointment out of their system quickly, and the fact that Utd have gotten the better of the Blues in most recent encounters, a win for the Reds was a strong possibility.
Lineup was promising. De Gea, Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Cleverley, Kagawa, Rooney and Hernandez (yay). That was just four changes from the Madrid lineup, a fact that would become telling later on. Most pleasing was the resting of Van Persie for Hernandez, who has an amazing record against Chelsea and deserves much more game time than he’s getting. Not that that seems to affect the man they call Chicharito. Just five minutes in, Carrick was in the middle of the park, play was placid. He looked up and span a astonishing pass over the defence that found the head of the man from Mexico. Cech had come out, but Hernandez still had a lot to do with the ball and man did he do it. A great header that twisted up and nestled into the far corner. A simply stunning goal from absolutely nothing. 1-0 to Utd and a fantastic start.
Things continued in wonderful fashion as Nani was the victim of a foul by a back-tracking Moses. Rooney stood over the free kick and whipped it in. It looked to be heading towards a cluster of players including Luiz and Jonny Evans. However, it missed them and went untouched into the corner with Cech unable to see it until far too late. A bit lucky but a solid strike. 2-0 with Utd in the ascendency.
A peep of things to come presented itself as the controlling element of Utd’s play went on holiday and presented Moses and Lampard with attempts that were blocked and saved respectively. It was only a peep as Utd revved back up to send Nani down the wing. The cross was of high quality, a rare thing from Utd this season. Hernandez was storming in and his improvised attempt at finishing with his left sailed just past the post. Maybe could have hit it with his right but at speed it’s a split second decision.
Next up was where Utd should have ideally killed the game off as a contest. Evra kept the ball low as he worked it across the box. The ball fell to the feet of Rooney. His shot was straight at Cech, who saved with his legs. The rebound was badly judged by Luiz, whose header seemed to be going in but for Cech’s strong recovery. Frustratingly, the scoreline stayed the same as Utd began to lose their way a little with misjudged passes, sometimes in their own half. ‘Another interception by Chelsea’ became a common piece of commentary, but it was more like ‘another careless ball by Utd’. However, nothing of danger came before the break and all was well from an Old Trafford viewpoint. The interim period proved a chance for Benitez to go over his plans. That, sadly, worked well. Benitez likes Interims – he’s the manager of one. Says so every time he does an interview on the card at the bottom. I first thought it was what Inter Milan called their under 11’s.
Moving on, the whistle signalled the start of the second half. Nani had departed just before the break for the ineffectual Valencia, and Chelsea took little time in making theirs. Moses for Mikel seemed straightforward but eyebrows were raised as Lampard left the fray for Hazard. Turned out to be a good choice. Just before the hour, Mata, Chelsea’s playmaker, fed Hazard on the edge of the box. The Belgian didn’t even bother beating Rafael, he just curled the ball across the box and past a helpless De Gea. Unstoppable. 2-1 and a scoreline that made every Utd fan turn to their neighbour and say: “Do you recall a time recently when the opponent had to score just one against us? Anyone remember how that went?”
Utd’s possession, such as it was, was now pretty awful. Even Carrick, who had been sweeping the ball well before the break, was guilty of a few misplaced passes. The momentum had clearly changed and it was extremely worrying. The epitome of this worry came on 68 minutes with Chelsea breaking away from a broken-down Utd attack at top speed. Mata sent through Ramires, who cut in on his left and guided the ball past De Gea for the equaliser. 2-2 with 20 minutes to go with Utd having apparently nothing in the tank. Petrol might be expensive these days in England, but Chelsea’s owner has interest in the oil fields and his side were well stocked. Forward they came again, with the action pausing briefly to see Hernandez replaced by Van Persie, Kagawa by Welbeck and Ba by Torres.
Torres might by abysmally absymal now and so abysmal he is next to the definition of absymal in the dictionary, but Carrick was needed to stop the Spaniard having a crack at Hazard’s cut back. Evans was required shortly after in similar circumstances. Hearts were thumping in distress, but they went into the mouth just before time as Mata brought the ball down gloriously in the Utd box. He got onto his left foot and struck. From a TV point of view, it looked a cert. De Gea, however, hadn’t read the script, spread himself wide and got a foot on it to guide it wide. Had it gone in, it was goodnight for Utd. As it was, Utd were still in the hat.
Little time left, but De Gea couldn’t put his feet up to rest just yet as Hazard smacked in an awkward one, with Cole’s follow-up sent safely off target through Utd influence. So ended the action and not a second too soon. Utd were spent and Sir Alex later credited the poor fall-off in performance to fatigue. Even so, it was the sloppiest passing I’ve seen in many times of watching Utd. I was crying out for Scholes. But for De Gea’s save, Utd would be well out of two cups in a week. However, they cling onto hope in this one, despite having a replay at Stamford Bridge to navigate. The victor will face Manchester City in the semi-final.
To summarise, the start of the game was brilliant, but that was about it. Utd then lost control of the game as much as, if not more than, Chelsea gained it. A rest is most certainly called for after this week. Saturday against Reading is the next fixture – not too demanding but Reading fighting for their lives.
One last comment I want to make. Nani’s substitution for Valencia. There is a book by a man called Paolo Bacigalupi called ‘The Windup Girl’. One of the main characters, indeed the titular character, the Windup Girl – Emiko, is described as having a ’stutter-stop’ motion (she’s genetically altered). I thought back to that book watching Valencia. He received the ball, he stopped, he moved, he stuttered, he stopped. Caught in about ten minds and decisive in none of them. There was one moment in particular when if he’d plugged his batteries in (he has them – he is fast) he’d have been clean through on the wing with acres of spaces. He didn’t. He stutter-stopped, Chelsea tracked back and the chance was lost. His crossing, when he got one in anyway, was poor. I am starting to think the people who say he shouldn’t wear number 7 have a point. Just behind that I’m starting to think he shouldn’t be wearing red at all.
Until next time, comments below. Last post did well with comments – a record. Let’s keep that up.