Question: How many times have Chelsea blown a 3-0 lead? Answer? Never in Premier League history. Never. AVB’s inexperience shone through on an afternoon where he should have been sticking two fingers up at his critics. A man, nurtured under Sir Bobby Robson and guided under Jose Mourinho, who failed to ask for the last piece of the footballing jigsaw: how to see out matches. And how, one day, AVB might look back on what could have been. How, one day, these two points dropped could be the difference between fourth place and elimation from the Champions League. How, one day, AVB might see this as the defining moment in his Chelsea career.
The Chelsea faithful beamed 50 minutes in. Much-maligned David Luiz had just headed in and Twitter went wild: “Chelsea are back!”, one yelled. Yes. The vulnerability that has haunted us all season. That’s back. The ability to drop points from commanding positions. That too. 3-0 up to the Champions was practically unheard of. Yet Chelsea could not keep it, aptly summing up the season to date: full of promise, yet always falling short. Scoring three showed everything we had done well this season: Sturridge darting behind players, Mata with some skill, Luiz being an aerial threat. Conceding three epitomised everything we had done wretchedly: stupid, petulant fouls, gaping holes in our back-line. Who do we lay the blame on? Howard Webb? Sturridge (for the first penalty), Ivanovic (for the second)? Or maybe, just maybe, the man bouncing up and down on the side ought to have done more.
AVB is a clever man, that I have no qualms with. Yet his decision-making is refutable. Going into the match, he set Chelsea up perfectly. The way I had been dying for them to play: 4-2-3-1. Two anchormen (Essien and Meireles) holding incase Luiz goes walkabout. Mata was pushed more centrally. Well done, Mr Villas-Boas. Hallelujah, the man listens! And how Chelsea reaped the rewards. 3-0 up proved that, a testament to Chelsea’s play.
Yet the mood turned sour. The one man who set up Chelsea so well refused to modify the team according to the situation. AVB did not change things at 3-0. Perhaps, he felt he could repeat the 6-1 feat of Manchester City. He did not change either at 3-1. Ought he to there? Definitely. 3-1 is as vulnerable as 1-0. One more goal conceded and Manchester United would have been feeding their momentum from our nerves. And that is what they duly did.
AVB is a man who should know better. We were vulnerable at 3-2, and changing it then only encouraged more attacks. It allowed no room for error at all. At all. Yet you cannot bank on that in a game of such dimension. Players were confused – if AVB wanted to see out the lead, why not see it out at 3-1, where there was still one room for error?
The conspicuously unconventional substitution of Chelsea’s most influential attacker for a teenager still relatively inexperienced to the magnitude of the tie heightened queries as to whether the equally-callow AVB knew what he was doing. Was the idea to stuff the midfield? Was it not counter-productive to attempt to shore up the back? Was it undermining the abilities of Meireles and Essien? Was it AVB making an impulsive, knee-jerk move? The substitution – and thus the changing of a functioning formation to an uncharted shape – made us forfeit a game we had won.
This match will be remembered for what happened. Forget the talk that Manchester United never gave in, that is irrelevant. Chelsea succumbed to self-inflicted pressure. It is never over until the whistle has blown against a side like United, yet a 3-0 lead is preservable. In a match when The Young Kid ought to have shown The Old Master how it’s done, the latter came out with the last laugh. AVB will be lambasting, lecturing, berating himself. The man has been taught the hard way for previous failings in quizzing friends in Sir Bobby Robson and Jose Mourinho. One can only hope the man learns from his adversary now.