Here we are, writing after a first defeat in the league for two months, since the 22nd of February. It makes it that little bit harder to smile, but at least it’s not too bad in the grand scheme of things.
Although United were playing the leaders, and best team in the Premier League by far, we were still optimistic that they could get something out of this, especially after the last few performances.
Of course, we were a bit worried, as a few injuries had racked up in the week before this game, and Van Gaal had to field a makeshift defence, something we were all too familiar with earlier in the season.
Once the game started United were on the front foot, and made Chelsea realise that they were a much better side than the last time United had travelled to Stamford Bridge. Pity it was exactly what Jose Mourinho had planned, as he used the same tactics against even better sides. His Inter beat Barcelona in exactly the same way in 2010, where his team lets the opposition pass the ball around, but not create much. United pressed as much as they could, and had a chance to go ahead when Rooney ran on to a Luke Shaw cross, but though his effort was close enough to make many think that he had scored, he hit the ball just wide of the target. Instead, it was Chelsea who took the lead with their first attempt at goal, less than ten minutes before half-time. Eden Hazard’s goal was like a punch to the stomach, as that’s when it dawned on many that Chelsea’s plan was working.
The second half was more of the same as United kept possession for long times, and even created a few good chances to equalise. The best of them fell to Falcao, who hit the post from a tight angle. When the final whistle went, we were left feeling like United could have easily got at least a point from this game, same as they had when they played Chelsea at Old Trafford last October.
We can bemoan the fact that United had 70% possession, and Chelsea were lucky to get the three points when they were so heavily outplayed. But isn’t that exactly what United were doing a few months ago, when they were winning games while being average? The game at The Emirates comes to mind, when most of us were very happy that our team ‘stole’ three points at a dominant Arsenal. So yes, it grates a little that Chelsea won a game that they didn’t deserve to win, but their plan worked perfectly, and I think we’d have been quite happy if it was the other way around (though it is boring to watch).
After six wins in a row, United’s very positive run was halted by the best team in England at present. It wasn’t for want of trying, as United were by far the better side. So though defeated, we certainly didn’t feel deflated, also because of the cushion United built over fifth place in the past few weeks.
In other games in the league, City beat West Ham 2-0 to close the gap on United to just one point; Tottenham won 3-1 at the wee club from the North East whose supporters protested without really protesting against their owner; Southampton lost 2-1 at Stoke to see their faint European hopes get further, and in the relegation zone Leicester won once again, this time at home to Swansea, to get off the bottom of the table and put themselves in with a chance of staying up.
Meanwhile, in the FA Cup semi-finals, Arsenal made sure they’ll get a chance to defend last season’s success by beating Reading after extra-time in a game that thanks to TV moguls was played at the same time as the Chelsea-United game. So much for the magic of the cup eh?
Mind you, just a day later it seemed like the magic was back when Aston Villa burst the Scousers’ bubbles by beating L’pool 2-1 to make sure that their captain fantastic won’t get the chance to win a trophy on his birthday. With the FA’s greed in playing the semi-finals at Wembley, L’pool players and fans must have thought they had done enough to indeed ‘Get Gerrard to Wembley’. Oh well, maybe some TV company might get him there yet, by inviting him to be one of their cup final analysts.
In other news, Barcelona and Bayern Munich both made it into the Champions League semi-finals by swatting PSG and Porto respectively, showing how hard it will be for a club like United to get to the very top again as they seem to be miles ahead.
West Ham have announced they’ll be reducing season-ticket prices for next season, when they move to the 54,000 capacity Olympic Stadium, mainly due to the extra money they’ll be getting from TV companies. Here’s hoping other teams follow as match day tickets do cost too much these days, especially for away fans.
Congratulations are in order to FC United of Manchester who have been promoted to the Conference North. The club, formed ten years ago by disgruntled fans when the Glazers took over at United, will next season play in the same league as Stockport County, ironically where a lot of Manchester City fans come from. Their place will be taken by Salford City FC, the club partly owned by the ‘class of ‘92’ who got promoted themselves this week.
Back to United, Chris Smalling has signed a new deal at the club; Rafael has suffered a cracked rib injury and is out for what remains of the season; and PSV have admitted that United have already made enquiries for Memphis Depay.
United’s next game is at Everton on Sunday the 26th of April (1:30pm UK time). Hopefully United will bounce back with a win to stay at least third in the table. Incidentally, this was the game after which David Moyes was sacked exactly a year ago this week. Here’s hoping that it will be a much happier visit to Goodison Park this weekend… COME ON UNITED!!!