Next Monday, Manchester United will face Manchester City knowing that there won’t be a third derby this season, after Chelsea extended United’s hiatus in the FA Cup to nine years with a comfortable 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge, quashing any hopes of a first domestic double in 14 years.
Less than a month ago, the more optimistic Reds even entertained dreams of repeating the 1999 Treble but Real Madrid ensured United wouldn’t add to their three European crowns, while today Chelsea deservedly prevented United from reaching a semifinal against City at Wembley.
Following a rather uninspiring but winning performance at Sunderland 48 hours ago, United were flat, sloppy and frustrating to watch.
With Wayne Rooney out injured, Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to start with Antonio Valencia at right back, Phil Jones in midfield with Tom Cleverley out on the left proved to be a tactical own goal, albeit one perhaps forced by the need of resting a few players.
Those who didn’t play out of position struggled just as much. Nani, in particular, produced a performance of such ineptitude that one wonders if he hasn’t already given up in his fight to remain at the club next season. Having thrown away a two-goal lead at home, United never looked at the races today. Early April is a month too soon to run out of energy, but United also looked completely bereft of ideas.
Perhaps, despite the bullish talk that had preceded the two games against Chelsea, Sir Alex Ferguson really didn’t consider the FA Cup a priority this season, and the 15-point gap in the league has proved him right so far. The way United slumped out of the competition though, will provide some food for thoughts.
After a flat half an hour, De Gea repelled Demba Ba effort with his leg after the former Newcastle man had been played through by Hazard.
United, their play lacking momentum and movement, twice went close to open the scoring.
First Nani’s shot fizzled wide of the post, then Hernandez’s shot was saved by Cech, after the ball had taken an awkward bounce.
Straight after the restart, Demba Ba brilliantly held off Rio Ferdinand before unleashing a volley that looped over David De Gea and into the far corner to put Chelsea ahead.
With an hour gone Van Persie replaced Cleverley, the England man unable to add significant to United’s efforts during his time on the pitch.
Cech denied Hernandez with a superb save to keep the Mexican’s diving header, that had met Welbeck’s driven cross into the box, out before Mata and Hazard twice went close to double Chelsea’s lead, the Spaniard hitting the side-netting, the Belgian squandering a good chance wide of the post.
Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs replaced Nani and Danny Welbeck, but United couldn’t create any clear chances but a Van Persie’s volley that sailed harmlessly over the bar after Ashley Young and Patrice Evra had combined down the left hand-side of the pitch.
As United toiled forward without much conviction, chants of “We’re a party on derby day” rose from the away section, United’s traveling support tried to find some silver lining to an otherwise unremarkable day.
Before having a party, though, United have to pick themselves up. Today’s version was too bad to be true.
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