Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Wipeout: Chelsea 1 - Manchester United 0

photo by Laram777via PhotoRee

Manchester United lost to Chelsea, 1-0 on Monday, in an FA Cup replay necessitated by Chelsea's remarkable comeback at Old Trafford a couple of weeks back. Denied the industry of Wayne Rooney due to an injury, United's attack sputtered throughout the contest, which was ultimately settled by the classy touch of Chelsea forward Demba Ba. Robin Van Persie missed two golden chances to equalize in the game's closing minutes, the Dutchman's misses mirroring his teammate's wipeout in their shot at  a domestic double.

Ba's goal, which brought a cagey contest to life in early second half, necessitated the dominant theme of the game's final forty five minutes: United attacking and Chelsea looking for opportunities on the counter.  Ultimately, it was the home side who narrowly made their way through to the waiting Manchester City, and United was left to rue the real cause of their removal from the competition: letting a two goal lead at home slip to a second half Blue wave. 

Monday's game began evenly, as both teams felt their way into the match, played at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge grounds. Strangely, it was the home side looking to spread the ball wide in the early going and United attacking to decent effect through the middle of the pitch. It was 12 minutes gone before either side slowed the ball down even a bit, with the game's first quarter of an hour passing by in a relative blur.

The game;s first half had the feel of a European tie, both sides interested in attacking, but not at the expense of leaving their defenders exposed to the full capabilities of the other side's playmakers. Ryan Bertrand was introduced for an injured Ashley Cole on 20 minutes, the regular Chelsea left back the victim of a pulled groin courtesy of Danny Welbeck's pace.

The teams traded attacking spells as the half ground on, although only one true chance was created, Demba Ba requiring David De Gea to show up as the game clock hit thirty minutes. The action began to heat up just a bit over the next fifteen minutes, goalkeepers' attention at a premium, with Nani and Chicharito testing Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and Eden Hazard and Oscar requiring the United 'keeper's attention at the other.   Although the paucity of real opportunities stood in notable contrast to the last time these two teams met, by the time the players left the pitch at the interval one had the very real sense the second half would be different.

It was -- and it was less than three minutes in when and the deadlock was broken.  The United defense was left helpless by Demba Ba's classy outstretched finish from a perfectly lofted Juan Mata pass, De Gea stranded and the home side now with the lead.  The goal appeared to energize both sides, who buzzed around the pitch with a renewed intensity.

Just before the hour mark and the obligatory introduction of Robin Van Persie (on for Tom Cleverley), it was Petr Cech's fingertips that ever-so-narrowly preserved Chelsea's lead, tipping Javier Hernandez' attempt to reprise his role as Chelsea killer just over the home side's bar.  De Gea repaid the favor at the other end, denying Mata with his hands on the near post before Ryan Giggs replaced the frustratingly wasteful Nani at the 65 minute mark. The switch required the away side to change formations, Phil Jones shuffling to left back and Antonio Valencia moving just in front of him.

Eden Hazard dragged his shot just wide of the visitors' goal with 25 minutes left, as United began living dangerously, pressing bodies forward and leaving the back line increasingly exposed during the final run in.  Ashley Young came on for Welbeck when half of that time had elapsed, as Sir Alex rolled one final die in an effort to turn around the deficit.  

The game became increasingly stretched, with opportunities spurned at both ends of the pitch, as Robin Van Persie extended his goal drought despite being offered the opportunity to equalize -- once at his feet and the second off his head.  In the end, United found themselves unable to breach the home side's net, out of the competition, and heading into seven day's enforced rest before the upcoming Manchester derby.

This is farlieonfootie for April 2.

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