Column: A tactical breakdown of Man U. vs. Chelsea
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 21:10
On Oct. 28, Champions of Europe and top of the table Chelsea hosted 19-time English League Champion and second place Manchester United in the Barclays Premier League. After both teams scored two goals in succession, a Javier Hernández 75th-minute winner gave United all three points, moving them to within one point of Chelsea and level with their Manchester title rivals.
Both teams came into the match after tough UEFA Champion League matches midweek; Chelsea traveled to Ukraine Tuesday and fell to Ukrainian Champions Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1, while United erased a two-goal deficit at home to SC Braga to win 3-2.
The big pre match news for Chelsea was the inclusion of all three midfielders in the starting lineup. Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard all played 80+ minutes in Ukraine Tuesday, but Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo opted to use all three again instead of the experience of Florent Malouda or the speed of Daniel Sturridge or Victor Moses. The Chelsea back five was the standard; Petr Čech in goal, the more defensive Branislav Ivanović at right back, a center back paring of David Luiz and Gary Cahill, with Ashley Cole pushing forward at left back. The versatile Ramires anchored the midfield with John Obi Mikel allowing the front three of Mata, Oscar and Hazard to move where they please and create for striker Fernando Torres.
United came into the match flirting with playing a 4-1-2-1-2, (a midfield diamond) just like they had against SC Braga in the UEFA Champions League but Sir Alex Ferguson decided to match Chelsea’s formation and go with a 4-2-3-1. David De Gea was given the nod in goal with Rafael at right back, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans at center back and Patrice Evra at left back. Central midfield has been a problem area for United this season but Michael Carrick has been the one constant piece in front of the back four. Sunday, he was partnered with Tom Cleverley, because Cleverley’s stamina and speed would be more effective than Paul Scholes’ passing ability. Cleverly and Carrick protected to allow the front three of Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young to create chances for striker Robin van Persie.
United draw first blood
United came out of the blocks counter attacking down Ashley Coles’ left side where United have traditionally found success since the 2009 Charity Shield. A through ball in the third minute to Young split open the Chelsea defense and gave space to Van Persie to collect a cross and shoot, hitting the post and forcing a ricochet off of Luiz for an own goal.
After going a goal down Chelsea remained calm, dominating the next 10 minutes until, again United attacked Chelsea’s left flank, exposing a 2 vs. 1 with Rafael and Valencia against Cole. This again dragged the entire Chelsea defense to the left to cover, meaning Luiz could not man mark Van Persie who was free inside the box to slot home his ninth goal of the season.
Chelsea grow in confidence
Despite being two goals down inside of 15 minutes, Chelsea remained calm and kept the ball for much of the remaining half. This Chelsea onslaught forced United to withdraw Wayne Rooney and play him in a central midfield role to help contain Chelsea’s three-headed attacking monster. This worked for almost the entire first half until the 44th minute when Rooney brought down Juan Mata just outside the 18-yard box, leading to a splendid free kick by Mata, which cut United’s lead in half.
Chelsea continued to pile on the pressure into the second half and despite a couple of top class saves by David De Gea Chelsea tied the game when Ramires climbed higher than Cleverley on an Oscar cross.
Chelsea see red
The next ten minutes were the most even of the whole
match, both teams battled in the midfield creating few clear-cut scoring chances. But then in the 63rd minute, Robin van Persie turned Gary Cahill who set Young free down the middle of the Chelsea defense. Young was free on goal but was brought down by Ivanović, who earned a red card. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson immediately reacted to the numerical advantage bringing on Javier Hernández for Tom Cleverley, switching to a 4-1-3-2. Roberto Di Matteo also made an adjustment sacrificing Oscar for right back César Azpilicueta in the 66th minute settling for a 4-4-1 formation.
But then catastrophically Torres was shown a second yellow card after a dive, forcing Chelsea to play with 9 men. Di Matteo then set up for the draw taking off Juan Mata for left back Ryan Bertrand, playing a 4-4-0 formation with Hazard at right midfield being Chelsea’s only legitimate attacking threat.
With a two-man advantage it was really only a matter of time until United grabbed the winner. Wayne Rooney was brought off for Ryan Giggs who operated as a center forward behind Van Persie and Javier Hernández. United had a front five while Chelsea only had four at the back, but since United had so much possession Evra and Rafael pushed very forward on the outside giving United a huge advantage. In the 75th minute, right back turned right-winger Rafael, fired across the Chelsea goal mouth and Hernández the quintessential goal poacher tapped home the winner. The final 15 minutes of the match consisted of United constantly finding the open man with a pass, with nine-man Chelsea gallantly chasing shadows.
After battling it out for 90 minutes on Sunday in the league these two go at it again this afternoon again at Stamford Bridge in the League Cup.