It was billed as a monster clash between two of English football’s giants, but in truth – despite being the current Premier League champions – Manchester United have fallen so far short of their usual standards of late that anything other than a Chelsea victory would have been a major surprise. The writing was on the wall for David Moyes’ men as soon as the teams were announced, the absence of both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney for the visitors meaning they had little realistic hope of success.
Danny Welbeck was tasked with leading the line with teenage sensation Adnan Januzaj (whose emergence has been one of United’s few positives this season) playing in behind. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia were on the wings with Michael Carrick partnered in the centre of the park by an out-of-position Phil Jones – all in all hardly a side to have the opposition quaking in their boots. Having said that, while United looked weak on paper it was they who started the brighter, fashioning a number of early chances that could have seen them edge ahead.
Jose Mourinho’s men, however, soon got into gear, and it was Samuel Eto’o who opened the scoring on 18 minutes after his curling shot took a wicked deflection that caused the ball to loop over a helpless David de Gea. The goal gave the home side impetus and though United battled hard to get themselves back into the game, they lacked any cutting edge in the final third against a well-drilled Chelsea backline.
The Blues didn’t create too much for the remainder of the half, but just before the break Cameroonian Eto’o – who was preferred up top to Fernando Torres – knocked in a low cross from centre back Gary Cahill, the United defence having gone AWOL. The goal killed the Red Devils’ chances of success and the result was never in doubt from that point. Moyes simply doesn’t have the kind of game-changers he needs to compete at this level, and though his men didn’t lack fight in the second period, they looked impotent as an attacking force without their two main men, Rooney and RVP.
Indeed the match was put to bed as a contest soon after the interval as Eto’o completed his hat-trick, tapping in from close range after woeful defending by United at a corner. The introduction of Javier Hernandez for the visitors gave them a spark up top and begged the question why the Mexican hadn’t started alongside Welbeck, especially when he scored a consolation after 78 minutes. A late red card for United captain Nemanja Vidic was something Moyes could have done without (the centre back faces a three-match suspension) and was the culmination of a disappointing day for the visitors.
Ultimately, few had expected anything other than a home victory here, and the win both keeps the Blues well in the title hunt (after Manchester City and Arsenal were both victorious a day earlier) and puts the final nail in the coffin of United’s chances of successfully defending their Premier League crown. Next up in the league for Mourinho’s men is a very winnable home match against West Ham, and then the big one: Man City away on 3rd February.