The latest edition of the Chelsea-Manchester United clash was the proverbial tale of two halves: The Blues absolutely mastered the surprisingly docile visiting Red Devils that had displayed enormous attacking intent with the team selection. The domination, though, was not reflected by a mere one-goal lead via a crisp Antonio Rüdiger header.
Then came the hour mark of the match and everything changed. Manchester United players changed gears and scored two goals via Anthony Martial, while Chelsea discarded ‘Sarri-ball’ and embraced the long-ball like there was no ground in the middle. It was through sheer madness of injury-time melee that Chelsea managed to find an equalizer via Ross Barkley in the 96th minute.
What that, in essence, means that both the teams played only one half, and therefore, did not deserve to win the whole match.
In the end, it would’ve felt like a loss to Jose Mourinho. But overall, Maurizio Sarri would be the more disappointed one for handing over the top spot to City and Liverpool.
As a match, there were three major takeaways from the match:
Hazard is NOT a 38-Games-a-Season Player:
Prior to the clash of the two titans at Stamford Bridge, Eden Hazard was consistently being placed alongside Ronaldo and Messi. Talking to the media prior to the match, even Mourinho said that Chelsea would win the Premier League if Hazard keeps firing.
However, the ‘if’ that Mourinho hinted at is what has been the bane of Chelsea supporters, and indeed football aficionados.
Arsenal legend Paul Merson recently pinpointed the issue when he said that “the problem with Chelsea ace Eden Hazard is he can go missing for six months at a time”.
Was today the first day of those six months? Almost certainly not ㅡ but he did go missing for a big chunk of the match time. He also lost the ball a few times and was not accurate with his ‘cute’ flicks and other trickery.
To give credit where due, Hazard himself accepted that aspect of the game last season after ‘going missing’ against Barcelona in both the legs of the Champions League match.
Contrast that with what Messi produced at Wembley a few weeks ago against Tottenham Hotspurs in their Champions League match.
Title Contenders Chelsea Need New Contenders Both at the Front and the Back:
There is more or less a consensus developing across the Premier League is that Alvaro Morata is coming to the end of his Chelsea career, a new striker is arriving in January. He has scored two goals in the Premier League so far at an average of over 300 minutes per goal!
Unfortunately, his substitute Olivier Giroud hasn’t scored even a single goal. In fact, he played and won the FIFA World Cup without scoring a single goal!
Clearly, Sarri needs a forward that can put the ball in the opposition goal ㅡas early as during the January window.
Adding to the woes is the volatility at the back. Marcos Alonso and David Luiz are both great talents, but not necessarily great in defence.
Luiz pulled out of position which led to Manchester United’s second goal. Alonso, while continuing to lie on the ground, though one can barely fault a player for lying prostrate on the ground after a collision, gave an easy target for Martial to fire in the second goal.
In any case, the two represent a case of turning a winger and a mid-fielder into defenders.
At the moment Sarri looks adamantly in support of the two ㅡ despite having the likes of Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill in the ranks. But, he might need a Bonucci or a Rugani to become a really reliable title contender.
It Promises to Come Good for Manchester United, Eventually
Twice in two matches now, Mourinho’s boys have come back from behind to lead. But for a mad scramble at the end, twice they would have won.
How did it happen, amid all the negativity surrounding the team, and especially the manager?
It happened because Mourinho is a great coach. He no longer needs to prove that. Unfortunately, his personality gets in the way of a fair assessment of his managerial acumen. This writer believes that he is very different from, but just as good as Pep Guardiola. And he proves this in the way he manages most of the ‘big matches’. He may not win them, he may not even be attractive, but he manages to extract what needs to be for the team.
Today, he again managed to completely blunt the Hazard factor. A year ago, it was Ander Herrera who was assigned the job. Today, it was Ashley Young. With a misfiring striker and a shackled talisman, Chelsea could’ve gone only as far. And but for the error by Paul Pogba (missing his marker) that led to the first goal, and the late chaos in the 16-yard-box, he would’ve pulled off a perfect execution.
Add to that the fact that man-to-man, Manchester United is one of the best teams in the Premier Leagueㅡ something acceded by Sarri before the match. It is perhaps an issue of emotions and/or egos, that is stopping the team from gelling. Once that is sorted out, and it would be, eventually, it promises to come good for Utd.