POOR REFEREEING DECIDED THE result of this game. Chelsea conceded two goals from Manchester United counter-attacks within the first 12 minutes. But unlike in their match against Shakhtar Donetsk, the Blues recovered well. Goals from Mata and Ramires put Chelsea on level terms and the momentum was on their side with enough time to win the game. Then, the two red cards changed the game and the offside goal was hammered in as the final nail to the coffin.
The team should get credit for the way they attempted to turn things around; only the incompetency of the officials denied the players the result they deserved. However, we should try to understand what went wrong in the early stages of the game. If we can figure out the errors, we might have a chance to learn from them. Analysis of the David Luiz (OG) and Robin van Persie goals after the jump.
The Own Goal
|Picture 1. Hazard passes to Mata|
Chelsea were trying to build an attack down their left. Hazard had dropped back to collect the ball; both Cole and Ivanovic had pushed on, as they are supposed to in this system; Mata drifted wide to fill the void left by Hazard. United, on the other hand, were defending compactly with a 4-5-1 shape.
Hazard had a couple of passing options here: (a) play it safe and pass back to either Luiz or Cahill or (b) be more adventurous and send a long ball toward Oscar who had some space. But instead the Belgium forced a forward pass to Mata who was tightly marked by Rio Ferdinand. This was the point of transition as Ferdinand's tackle knocked the ball right into Wayne Rooney's path.
Both Hazard and Mata could do better. They are highly technical players who can move and control the ball well. There is no excuse for giving the ball away this easily around the halfway line and leaving the defense exposed. Some blame Cole's positioning here which is unfair. In this system, the fullbacks give width to Chelsea's attack. That's why both Cole and Ivanovic (out of frame in Picture 1) were very high up the pitch when Chelsea had the ball. You can criticize the system but not the individual, at least not in this scenario.
|Picture 2. Rooney passes to Young|
Hazard made little effort to stop or track Rooney who breezed past him. Mata, probably prompted by the guilt of losing the ball in the first place, followed Rooney, but the Spaniard stopped, like a cat that reached the edge of the water, after Rooney slipped a pass to diagonal-running Ashley Young. As soon as that pass flashed by, Luiz turned toward the goal and hurried back centrally, wrongly thinking Rooney would be covered by Mata.
The equation was much simpler on the other side; a sprint race between Ivanovic and van Persie. Mano-a-mano. If this was an arm wrestle, I would put my money on the Serbian, but this was a speed contest. The United striker had a slight advantage of having to run in the inside channel and he's faster than the Chelsea man.
At this point, Chelsea's best hope is to push United out wide and stall the attack, but you can't do that with defensive holes all over the place.
|Picture 3. Young to Rooney, Rooney to RVP|
So now Rooney was roaming free on the right and offering support for Young who simply laid the ball into the strikers's run. Meanwhile, Ivanovic made an effort to catch up with van Persie, but it wasn't enough. Rooney cut back and the former Arsenal striker had the space to get the shot off. The ball came off the post, hit Luiz on the back and landed in the net.
All four of the Chelsea defenders were made to look bad in this goal, especially the fullbacks who seemed to be out of position when the counter attack began. But it all started with an unforced error from the two attacking midfielders who were sloppy on the ball and were of little help defensively when United came forward with Rooney.
The RVP Goal
|Picture 4. Ferdinand to Rafael|
While an "on-the-ball" error set off the first goal, an "off-the-ball" mistake was at the beginning of the second goal. With Rooney dropping back deep, United had a 4-3-3 look to their shape. De Gea took a short goal kick tapping the ball into Ferdinand's feet. As Ferdinand bring the ball forward, Torres shifted to the left to pressure the defender. Hazard, meanwhile, should have been staying close to Rafael, but the Belgium got drawn toward the ball, allowing Ferdinand to lob the ball over to his right back. The United attack down the right flank was on.
Still, Chelsea's defense was in a good shape: Cole marking Valencia, Luiz and Cahill taking care of RVP and Ivanovic on the other side with Young. As long as everyone concentrate and approach with caution, this could be dealt with.
|Picture 5. Rafael to Valencia|
Well, that didn't work out, did it? While Hazard tagged along Rafael's heels as the Brazilian ventured forward, Cole decided, for reasons only he would know, to leave Valencia and step toward Rafael. There was no need for that. The correct approach would have been to retreat along with Valencia and wait for a mistake or stall the attack so that the teammates can get back into defensive positions. But instead, Cole made it easy for United to get behind the defense -- Rafael passed forward to Valencia -- which then drew out Luiz to the wide position leaving RVP alone with Cahill.
Well, it's not great but it's not the end of the world, right? Valencia-Luiz, Cahill-RVP and Ivanovic-Young. A 3 v 3. Surely, there is room for hope, for optimism. Is there not?
|Picture 6. Valencia passes to RVP|
Well, whatever hope we had was cruelly butchered by some miscommunication between Cahill and Ivanovic. When Valencia was dribbling down the right, Cahill had RVP covered and Ivanovic followed Young. But for some reason, Cahill wanted to trade target; he pointed to RVP suggesting that Ivanovic take over the marking duty.
The right back was slow to react to this sudden change of plan and Cahill had already retreated a few steps back from RVP, creating just enough space for the striker to shoot. Looking back, it might have been better to have kept the original marking responsibilities -- Cahill-RVP and Ivanovic-Young.
THESE TWO GOALS SHOW that Chelsea still need to work on their game both on and off the ball. They must keep possession better and avoid giving away ball cheaply. Off the ball, the players must keep to the 4-4-1-1 defensive shape that Roberto di Matteo want. A lost in defensive shape means a gap for the opposition to exploit.
Carefree, wherever you may be...