BackPageFootball’s Ger McCarthy analyses where it all went wrong for Chelsea following Manchester United’s 3-1 quarter final second leg victory in the Champions League at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening.
Champions League Quarter Final Second-Leg
Old Trafford, Manchester
Manchester United 2 Chelsea 1
(United win 3-1 on aggregate)
Carlo Ancelotti’s days are surely numbered following Chelsea’s abject display in their 3-1 defeat to a rampant Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. Ryan Giggs rolled back the years with an inspired display to setup both of United’s goals which were clinically dispatched by Javier Hernandez and Ji Sung Park.
The fact Fernando Torres began up front and produced another insipid, goalless performance made a mockery of Ancelotti’s pre-match tactics, especially when you consider Drogba looked far sharper when introduced for the miss-firing Spaniard and even got on the score sheet when Chelsea were down to 10 men.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be delighted to have negotiated a potentially difficult two legs over their Premier League rivals and will respect but not fear Schalke in the semi-finals, provided the Germans come through their second leg with Inter on Wednesday night.
There was a tentative opening to the quarter final with both sides looking nervous from the opening whistle. Chelsea’s season was on the line and the visitors made sure to keep plenty of bodies behind the ball as United looked to release Hernandez at the earliest opportunity. Ramires burst into the United box after 5 minutes only to be foiled by a brave Van der Sar save before Ji Sung Park slipped past Alex in the Chelsea penalty area but the midfielder’s back heel failed to find a team mate. A lively opening 10 minute period concluded with Fernando Torres flashing a header just past the Manchester United upright from 12 yards.
A hobbling Rio Ferdinand handed Chelsea an opening on the quarter hour when the England international’s weak header landed at the feet of Torres who teed up Anelka on the edge of the area. The Frenchman stabbed a first time effort inches wide which brought the Old Trafford crowd to life in an effort to rouse their side. Right on cue Wayne Rooney curled an audacious 30 yard effort into Cech’s midriff but Chelsea continued to press and Frank Lampard should have done better from 10 yards despite forcing a smart save from Van der Sar. John O’Shea went in the referee’s book for a wild lunge on Ramires as United fought hard to contain the Londoner’s attacks and by the 20 minute mark Carlo Ancelotti was the happier of the two managers. Anelka walloped an instinctive first time shot narrowly over as United’s massed defence continued to repel the Pensioners attacks.
Michael Essien was much more prominent in the centre of the park following a disappointing showing in the first leg at Stamford Bridge. The Ghanaian was ably assisted by the lively Ramirez and Frank Lampard allowing the visitors to dominate possession for long stretches of the first half. Yet for all their possession Chelsea were almost caught napping after 27 minutes when Rooney’s pin-point cross was turned in by a diving Hernandez. The effort was correctly ruled out for offside but there wasn’t much in the decision and Ancelotti’s side breathed a sigh of relief. Van der Sar underlined his importance to United’s defence by racing from his area to expertly slide tackle possession away from a lurking Anelka just after the half hour as a tight quarter final remained delicately poised.
Ramires joined John O’Shea in the referee’s notebook for a foul on Nani as United broke quickly from defence. The tempo of the game rarely relented during a fiery first 45 minutes and Florent Malouda became the second Chelsea player to be cautioned in the 37th minute as the visitors looked to reassert their authority on the tie. Hernandez collided with John Terry’s stray arm minutes before the interval which resulted in yet another Chelsea caution.
United finished the half the stronger forcing Chelsea to defend their own area for a spell but a series of free-kicks failed to breach the Chelsea defence until 2 minutes from the interval when Javier Hernandez broke the deadlock. Ryan Giggs and John O’Shea combined beautifully down the right wing resulting in the Welsh winger racing into the right hand corner of the Chelsea area. Giggs slid a dangerous ball low across the 6 yard box and Javier Hernandez timed his run to perfection to fire home from close range and hand Manchester United an aggregate 2-0 lead.
Didier Drogba was introduced for Fernando Torres in a surprise move by Ancelotti during the break and the big Ivorian connected with an Ivanovic centre immediately after the restart but his blocked attempt spun into the grateful arms of Edwin Van der Sar. The half time substitution had little effect on Chelsea’s approach play and United’s defence – still anchored by a hobbling Rio Ferdinand – were unfazed as the tie past the 55 minute mark. United were more composed in possession in the second half thanks to the experience of Giggs and the tenacity of Nani. Rooney and Hernandez remained peripheral figures but always dangerous when they gathered possession. For a side chasing a two goal deficit Chelsea gave little impression of urgency until Didier Drogba unleashed a long range effort whistling past the United post on the hour mark.
Chelsea finally showed signs of life winning free-kick yards outside the area when Evra felled Drogba and was booked for the rash challenge. Van der Sar did well to parry the effort and United hacked clear following a goalmouth scramble. Once again Ancelotti surprised many by removing Anelka for Kalou as time ticked away with the visitors’ lack of urgency amazing considering their season was on the line. In fairness to Drogba he continued to look for the ball and his penetrating runs forced a corner and some hurried United defending as the tie inched towards its final quarter hour. Manchester United remained a threat on the counter-attack and Nani forced Cech into a full length save before a marauding Rooney run and cross found the head of Giggs whose effort was again saved by the Chelsea goalkeeper.
Whatever slim hope of a comeback Chelsea were clinging to evaporated after 70 minutes when a clumsy challenge on Nani resulted in Ramires’ second caution and subsequent red card. Nani danced through the heart of the visitors back four only to be brought down by John Terry but the match official decided not to send the Chelsea captain off much to the chagrin of the fouled United striker.
Antonio Valencia was brought on for the final 10 minutes to add steel to a United midfield already in complete control. Just when it seemed the tie was over as a contest Didier Drogba collected a long raking pass on his chest and raced into the United penalty box to hammer the ball past Van der Sar. Thoughts of an upset were quickly dispelled however when Ryan Giggs unlocked the visitors defence a minute later with a sublime pass for Ji Sung Park to wallop home and restore United’s two goal advantage. The tie petered out following that two minute bonanza and United comfortably held on to qualify for the Champions League semi-finals and a probable date with Schalke 04 of the Bundesliga.
Champions League Statistics (courtesy of Opta Sports)
• 3 – Nicolas Anelka has scored in all three of his Champions League away appearances this season. Travelled.
• 33 – Chelsea have had 33 attempts at goal compared to Man Utd’s 12 over the two legs of their Champions League tie so far. Quantity.
• 6 – Six of the 23 red cards shown in the Champions League this season have been given to London’s three representatives. Pearly.
• 4 – Ryan Giggs has assisted Man Utd’s last four Champions League goals. Evergreen.
• 2 – Man Utd boast the best defence in the Champions League this season having conceded just two goals and kept seven clean sheets. Miserly.
• 15 – Javier Hernández has scored 15 goals from just 22 shots on target in the Premier League & Champions League. Lethal.