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TTB: MUFC 3-2 Chelsea: The Blues see Red (Cards)

This was a well fought game between the top 2 teams in the league this year. Much of the post-game conversation has focused on the calls, and some say mistakes, of Mark Clattenburg. This has been covered much better than I could ever hope to do by numerous other blogs, so I’m going to focus on the tactical battle instead. Dominating the early part of the game, the Red Devils were able to take a 2-0 lead before Chelsea led an impressive fight back to tie the game at 2-2. Chelsea looked like they could have been on their way to earning 1 point, if not all three, before Branislav Ivanovic got his red card. Once they were reduced to 9 men, it was only a matter of time before the Red Devils took the lead, and all three points.


Manchester United vs. Chelsea FC

Stamford Bridge – October 28th, 2012


Manchester United (4-4-1-1)
After experimenting with a midfield diamond several times in the previous 5 games, Sir Alex Ferguson went back to Manchester United’s roots with a 4-4-1-1 and two wide players. The backline stayed the same as the one that faced Braga midweek, with the exception that Rio Ferdinand reclaimed his spot beside Jonny Evans. Michael Carrick moved forward to take his more traditional midfield slot alongside Tom Cleverley. Antonio Valencia started wide on the right, and Ashley Young returned from almost two months injured to play on the left side. With Shinji Kagawa injured for at least a month, Wayne Rooney took up the mantle as the team’s primary creative influence, starting behind Robin Van Persie.

Starting Formations

Chelsea (4-2-3-1)
Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea squad came out in in a formation and lineup that most people expected. John Terry missed the game while serving his 4 game suspension, so Gary Cahill started alongside David Luiz. In addition, Frank Lampard got injured midweek, so Ramires moved back to play alongside John Obi Mikel. This enabled Chelsea to play Juan Mata, Oscar, and Eden Hazard behind Fernando Torres.

Key Points-

  • A game of three distinct periods; the first 30 minutes were dominated by Manchester United, the second 30 minutes were dominated by Chelsea, and the final 30 minutes were dominated again by Manchester United after Chelsea fell to pieces.
  • Manchester United’s attack focused down the right side, where Ashley Cole struggled against Antonio Valencia and Rafael with little help from Eden Hazard ahead of him.
  • Ashley Cole started the game playing a very advanced role down Chelsea’s left side, causing Chelsea problems playing the ball out of the back.


Manchester United gets out of the gates strong

Sir Alex Ferguson decided against playing a midfield diamond, and played with width against a Chelsea team that has struggled with width all season. Both of these teams have been notoriously slow starters this season, with Manchester United giving up the first goal in all but 2 league games to this point and Chelsea has struggled early in games throughout the season.

Antonio Valencia got the start out wide on the right side, where he has had success previously against Ashley Cole, while Ashley Young got a surprise start after missing almost 2 months with a knee injury. Young played on the left side, but frequently cut inside to link up with Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie.

Michael Carrick took up his traditional spot deep in the central midfield, providing defensive cover for the back four while also being used to recycle possession and play as a deep lying playmaker. Tom Cleverley started alongside him, as Fergie opted for his movement and industry against a very dangerous attacking threat in Chelsea’s midfield. He was effective early on, but his influence diminished as he drifted out of the game after the opening half hour and completed only 29 of 38 passes.

Wayne Rooney played behind Robin Van Persie, taking up position between Chelsea’s defensive lines and operating as the more advanced playmaker. Defensively, his main responsibility was to get goal side of Ramires to check his forward runs. Rooney continued his typical style of not being afraid to drop deep into the midfield to pick up the ball and bring it forward. Dropping deep gave him space from his marker, normally John Obi Mikel, and allowed him time on the ball to pick out his next pass, which he did very well in the first 30 minutes of the game.

Chelsea struggled during the early part of the game, and this was largely down to Ashley Cole. When Chelsea had the ball, Ashley Cole played far up the pitch on the left side. This forced Antonio Valencia to play very deep to mark him. On the opposite side, Ashley Young played high up the pitch and helped Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney press Chelsea’s back line, which without Ashley Cole consisted of only 3 players. By pressing high up the pitch, 3v3, the Red Devils were able to stop Chelsea’s attacks before they could get started. In order to get the ball out of the back, Chelsea was forced to drop John Obi Mikel and Ramires much deeper to provide the outlet.

Struggling to get the ball out of the back caused Chelsea’s attack to be very slow. They struggled with ball movement, and continuing a problem that has plagued them all season, they struggled to get back defensively upon losing possession. They have proved very dangerous getting forward quickly, but going the other way, they have struggled. Their problems with the ball in the backline contributed to their defensive issues. Wayne Rooney’s main defensive responsibility was to get goal side of Ramires, but with Ramires frequently having to drop back among the center-backs to receive the ball, it allowed Wayne Rooney to stay much higher up the pitch.

12 minutes… 2 goal lead

With a fast start, Manchester United was able to take the lead within 4 minutes. Chelsea’s problems all originated in the wide areas, and they almost all stemmed from Ashley Cole’s position early on in the game. Chelsea struggled to get the ball out of their own zone and when they did turn it over, they struggled for defensive cover. Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie both made intelligent runs out to the wide areas to combine with the wide men and create overloads. The first goal was a great example of Chelsea’s struggles getting the ball out of the back, and their problem with overloads in the wide areas.

In the 4th minute, David Luiz played a sloppy pass forward that Rio Ferdinand was able to dislodge. Wayne Rooney took the ball down the right side before sliding it centrally to Ashley Young. Ashley Young did a great job holding the ball up, before sliding it back out wide to Rooney on an overlapping run. Rooney then slid the ball into the box for Robin Van Persie, who was poorly marked by Ivanovic. Van Persie’s shot went past Petr Cech, off the post, and off David Luiz’s hip before finally crossing the line.

Build up to Red Devil’s second goal

Early on, Antonio Valencia played very deep on the right side to mark Ashley Cole, limiting his ability to get involved in the offense. However, in the 12th minute he was finally able to get forward. He was able to play a beautiful low cross in the box that found a completely unmarked Robin Van Persie, who turned it in for a 2-0 lead.

Chelsea’s defense was overrun repeatedly on the break. Without Cole in the backline, when United broke forward, Chelsea’s defense was spread too thin. The gaps between the defensive players were frequently 15 yards or more. In both early United goals, David Luiz was forced to come out of the box on his left side to mark the wide player, Wayne Rooney for the first goal, and Antonio Valencia for the second goal.

With Cole playing high up the pitch, Chelsea’s defense struggles with large gaps.

Even when Chelsea was able to get back defensively, they still struggled out wide, especially on their left side. Antonio Valencia and Rafael have developed into a dangerous attacking threat, and in this game, Ashley Cole received very little help from Eden Hazard ahead of him. Di Matteo went so far, that after the second goal he switched Hazard and Mata’s position so that Ashley Cole got more defensive cover.

The Blues bite back

After Manchester United went up by two, Chelsea made a change to mitigate the advantage that the Red Devils had used so effectively. Ashley Cole played a much more withdrawn role, focusing primarily on his defensive responsibilities. This immediately made Manchester United’s pressure up the pitch less effective, as Chelsea now had a 4v3 advantage so they always had a passing outlet. This also allowed Ramires to get forward from his deep central midfield position, forcing Wayne Rooney to drop deeper into the midfield to mark him, making United’s transitions slower going forward.

With Mata and Hazard cutting inside, Chelsea’s attack lacks width

A simple change like keeping Ashley Cole back in the defensive line completely changed the complexion of the game. The Blues were now able to control more of the possession, get the ball forward more quickly, and force Manchester United to defend deeper. The only drawback for the Blues of this move is that it severely limited their attacks width. Both Juan Mata, and Eden Hazard, prefer to cut inside and play centrally. They like to try and get between the other teams midfield and defensive line, and play quick wall passes to split the defense open. This can lead the middle of the pitch to get congested, and they have very little width to spread the defense out.

With Chelsea controlling more possession, and United defending deeper, they switched their defense slightly. They played a 4-1-4-1, with Michael Carrick sitting in the ‘hole’, congesting the space that both Hazard and Mata like to play into. Wayne Rooney played alongside Tom Cleverley ahead of Carrick, and this was a very effective defense.

Manchester United’s Defense

The Red Devils played very good defense, sitting deeper as Chelsea took more possession, but this caused another problem for United. The gap between Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie increased, making it harder for the Red Devils to play it out of their own zone and Robin Van Persie went long periods without any touches. With the Red Devils struggling to play out of their own zone, Chelsea was able to apply more pressure.

Scoring is all that Mata’s

The final 5 minutes of the first half really saw Chelsea dominate the ball. The Blues attack finally seemed to click, with Juan Mata the key piece. Through the first 30 minutes of the game, he only played 2 passes in the final third, and one of them was unsuccessful, but in the second 30 minutes of the game when Chelsea dominated, he completed 12 of 18 passes in the final third, 4 of which created scoring chances. He ended the game with 5 key passes, more than anybody else on the pitch. The Spaniard was able to stamp his authority on this game, and spur Chelsea’s attack.

Juan Mata’s passing in the first 30 minutes (left), and second 30 minutes (right)

Just before half, he played picture perfect cross into the box that Fernando Torres connected with, but David De Gea was just able to get a glove on it. In the final minute of the first half, the Blues were able to get within one goal when Wayne Rooney gave away a poor foul just on the edge of the penalty area. Juan Mata took the free kick, and was able to get it by De Gea, whose view was partially shielded by his own wall.

Manchester United was glad to see the halftime break, as Chelsea looked stronger with every minute, but unfortunately for the Red Devils, the Blues started the second half where the first half left off. Only 7 minutes after the restart, the game was tied up. Threatening with the ball inside United’s penalty area, Juan Mata tried to lob a cross in from the right side. The ball was deflected away by Rio Ferdinand. Unfortunately it deflected no further than Oscar, on the left side of the penalty area. He lobbed the ball back centrally, at the edge of the 6 yard box where Ramires was able to get above Tom Cleverley and power the ball into the net.

After recovering from a 2-0 deficit, Chelsea now had a half hour to find a game winner. They definitely looked the stronger side, but they still had one weakness. The Blues may have abundant attacking talent in the midfield, their real weakness lies up front. Fernando Torres was anonymous throughout almost the entire game. He provided very little threat to United’s backline, and struggled to provide an attacking outlet for the three attackers behind him. What little influence he had upon the game came when he would drift out to wide areas, but this left no one attacking in the middle of the pitch.

Chelsea loves Red (Cards)

With Manchester United controlling the first 30 minutes, and then Chelsea coming back to dominate the second 30 minutes, the final 30 minutes went back to Manchester United as Chelsea disintegrated, with a little help from Mark Clattenburg. The first red card came for Branislav Ivanovic, when he fouled Ashley Young from behind on a one-on-one chance with Petr Cech after an excellent turn and pass by Robin Van Persie. With the opponent reduced to 10 men, most managers stay with their original formation and personnel to break the opponent down, but this frequently doesn’t work and when changes are finally made, it is often too late. Sir Alex Ferguson, to his credit, immediately made a change to take out a largely ineffective Tom Cleverley and replace him with Javier Hernandez. Wayne Rooney now dropped into the central midfield, alongside Michael Carrick, while Chicharito played up front with Robin Van Persie.

5 minutes later, in the 68th minute, Fernando Torres was sent off for his second yellow card when the referee judged that he took a dive from a light Jonny Evans tackle. Now down to 9 men, Chelsea dropped into a 4-4-0 in hopes that they could hold out for a draw. However, with Manchester United now able to dominate possession and pile on the pressure, the game winning goal was only a matter of time. It came in the 75th minute, when Robin Van Persie took a quick shot in the penalty area that Petr Cech was just able to deflect. The ball spun towards the post, and Cech was able to scramble after it and push it away, but it got no further than Rafael in the right side channel. He took a shot cum pass that deflected off Javier Hernandez as he was coming out of the net from the previous scramble. He appeared to be just offside, but the linesman missed it in all the bodies at the goal mouth, and this gave United a 3-2 lead.

With the lead, Manchester United proceeded to just dominate possession and play out the clock. Chelsea was forced to chase after the ball, but the Red Devils did well to hold onto the ball and deny chances for the Blues. Chelsea brought on Daniel Sturridge for Eden Hazard, trying to get at least 1 point, but it was a hopeless fight and United was able to see the game out.


Manchester United’s Attacks

This was a game of three distinct periods. The first 30 minutes were controlled by Manchester United, largely due to the error of having Ashley Cole play so high up the pitch on the left side. After Manchester United took a 2 goal lead, Roberto Di Matteo’s team made the adjustment and Ashley Cole pulled back to a more typical left back position. With Ashley Cole receiving little help from Eden Hazard, the majority of Manchester United’s attacks came down the right side to take advantage.

In the second 30 minutes, Chelsea was able to control possession and push United back deep into their own zone. Through excellent play by Juan Mata, Chelsea was able to bring the game back level. The final 30 minutes were the most contentious, after 2 Chelsea players were sent off; Manchester United was able to put in a game winning goal from a seemingly off-side position. While controversial, Manchester United will glad take 3 points from a ground that they have had such bad luck at.

Sorry it took so long to get it posted. Both me and my computer have been sick. Tactic Board posts are generally online within 48 hours of matches. I hope you enjoy the post. Comments are always appreciated!

By RangeRooney