Losing The Initiative: A Familiar Chelsea Story
Chelsea somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against an underwhelming Manchester United side. The 2-1 loss leaves the Blues in fifth place and now they need to rely on the teams above them to have any hope of making the top four.
Here are some of the talking points from a disheartening game of football.
#1 Return of the 9
Although the false 9 experiment was successful against Barcelona, it wasn’t something you would try against a Premier League defence, even if said defence contained Chris “Mike” Smalling. This allowed Alvaro Morata to take a break from being a good husband and try his hand at being a good striker. To support him in this quest, Conte deployed the in-form Willian and the not-too-shabby Eden Hazard. It was a ‘Made in Leicester’ midfield partnership of Kante and Drinkwater in front of a pretty solid backline sans Cahill. Chelsea had the best chances in the first half, hitting the bar once and carving United open like a Christmas turkey. In true Chelsea tradition, the Blues missed a host of chances before someone stepped up to put the ball in the back of the net.
#2 A Willian Thanks
The Brazilian continued his scintillating form against United, doing things we expected him to do when he first came into the side. Willian opened the scoring and came close to adding another with a freekick that De Gea barely kept out. He kept plugging away even when the rest of his attackers started showing signs of fatigue and frustration. Between him, Kante and first-half Eden Hazard, the trio were running circles around United’s midfield and defence. And then, it all went to pot.
#3 Fading Away
In the reverse fixture, it was a battle of the two strikers wherein Morata scored the winner and Lukaku couldn’t escape Kante’s pocket. Here, however, the roles were reversed. Lukaku finally managed to score a goal against a team in the top four. His clash of heads with Christensen left the Dane holding his noggin while the big Belgian bumbled his way into the penalty area to poke home the equalizer. He then pulled the classic “good feet for a big man” move and crossed for the substitute, Jesse Lingard to head home. Again, all Lingard had to do was escape the attention of Andreas Christensen for a free header. By that time Eden Hazard had faded badly after a bright first half and Moses was doing everyone’s head in. Both were replaced but it did not seem to have the desired effect on the game. Unless, of course, you count one moment where competent refereeing might have changed the result.
#4 Should Have Gone To Specsavers
We all know and agree that referees are human beings. We also agree that they can be incompetent and inconsistent. The refereeing team showed us the latter of these traits in this game. Nemanja Matic had the freedom of Old Trafford to scythe down any Chelsea player, elbow them in the face or shove them off the ball without any repercussions. It wasn’t until Matic had accumulated at least 6 bookable offences that he was shown the yellow card, and my £1 bet that he’d end the game without being booked was ruined. But the officials saved their worst for the last. Morata, played onside by Lindelof’s planted foot, was adjudged offside as his arm appeared to be a couple of inches ahead of his body. Unless they’ve changed the rules, you can’t score with your arm and so I fail to see how that could be construed as gaining an unfair advantage. If only there was something that could be done to prevent things like this ruining everyone’s Sunday…
#5 Slippery Slope
It’s going to be difficult for Chelsea to climb back into the top four now, since our fate depends on the results of those above us. We have to play three of the big hitters before the season ends, too. It will be a crucial few weeks for Chelsea and Conte. If the gap between us and the top four starts increasing, expect Roman Abramovich to pull the trigger on Conte’s Chelsea career.
Next up, it’s only Manchester City who just brushed Arsenal aside in the League Cup final like they were a Sunday League side. This could get ugly. Very ugly.