EPL: What to Make of Chelsea's Win Over Manchester United


Some quickee thoughts on Chelsea's 2-1 win over Manchester United Tuesday at Stamford Bridge:

* Comeuppance is a dish best served lukewarm -- For all the hair-pulling and teeth gnashing about the preferential, star treatment afforded to Manchester United and Wayne Rooney in light of the non-call Saturday against Wigan for elbowing James McCarthy, the cosmos readjusted itself very quickly.

And though he might be able to sway spineless refs and the jellyfish at the FA, Sir Alex Ferguson can't control Karma, which our old pal Ben Linus so sufficiently dubbed, "a fickle bitch."

Ferguson won't like it, but it was fitting that United lost on a late penalty kick converted by Frank Lampard after Chris Smalling tripped up Yuri Zhirkov in the 80th minute. The Scottish legend can moan and groan about it, but it was a pretty clear decision for Martin Atkinson. Considering United have won an untold number of games in similar fashion, his complaints fall on deaf ears.

You have to wonder, since he took over in 1986 at Old Trafford have United actually ever committed a penalty in the eyes of Ferguson? He's almost in George Constanza territory, in that, "it's not a lie if you believe it."

Also fitting, David Luiz (more on him later) hacked down Rooney with a savage knee-to-thigh blow for what would've been the Brazilian's second yellow card, except the refs never saw it.

And then deep in stoppage time, Nemanja Vidic stupidly dragged down Ramires for his second yellow of the match and will now miss the Liverpool game on Sunday.

See, these things have a way of working themselves out.

* Are United any good? -- Echoing the comments of Didier Deschamps from the Champions League a week ago, this Manchester United doesn't exactly soar in the same lofty heights of past title-winning incarnations.

This year United's most commendable quality has been it's unflinching, unyielding pursuit of results. It isn't often pretty or free-flowing, but until the last month, United -- in the League -- had kept finding a way to take a point.

Aside from the occasional sparks of Rooney, Chicharito (invisible Tuesday) and Nani (ditto) there isn't a lot of creativity in this side, instead a lot of workman-like, professional grinders. Guys who have a resolve to win above all else. Talented yes, but not the all-world intimidators of previous Red Devils squads.

When Chelsea turned up the heat in the second half United had no answers and couldn't get the ball out of its own area. The midfield couldn't settle or slow the game down, which granted would've been hard since the game was played at a breakneck, back-and-forth pace. United neither either a player to spring Rooney or Nani on the counter, or a player to slow it down and make some boring, crowd deflating horizontal passes. Michael Carrick (again) and Darren Fletcher (useful, but occasionally exposed) did neither.

Still, the outlet passes and clearances by Vidic and Smalling went to nobody in particular or out for a seemingly never ending string of corners (10 total for Chelsea) are more to blame. When Patrice Evra had to go off injured for Rafael, United barely possessed the ball the rest of the way. You could even say United were fortunate so many of Chelsea's early shots on goal were directly at Edwin van der Sar, who did play an excellent match, especially his first half denial on Branislav Ivanovic.

Anyhow, United's lack of a influential, two-way midfield presence beyond the aging legs of Paul Scholes came home to roost today.

United are now only four points clear of Arsenal with one more game played.

It's easy to write off the Red Devils in light of the second half vs. Chelsea, but love or loathe him, Ferguson knows how to guide a jumbo jet -- even one with a bum engine and low fuel reserves -- onto the runway come May. Especially when the nearest pursuers are Arsenal, a team that seems pathologically unable to win when the money is on the line.

* Oh, Side-show Bob -- Guess there is a reason that David Luiz can walk around with that ridiculous curly perm. He's got the game to back it up.

Aside from the first-half goal, he rendered Rooney useless and made Chicharito look like a lost little kid.

Oh, and Luiz scored a pretty nice one himself and was all over the field making plays and running around like a floppy haired Franz Beckenbauer. Perhaps, too, the hair is like a one of those deceptive traits like a puffer fish you see in the animal kingdom. You see that silly mop and think he's a clown. A sideshow clown, in fact. Would a clown give Rooney the hard foul like Luiz did? Luiz is cagier than he looks.

As much as it appears -- very early -- that Chelsea whiffed on the Fernando Torres move, it was equally as good prying Luiz away from Benfica, for about a third less money. If Chelsea is actually going to start ushering in a new era, there are worse pieces to build around than Luiz.

* Battering ram soccer -- When you think of the halcyon days -- not me, personally -- of Chelsea the last 6-7 years, you don't think of grace or ballet in soccer cleats. No, it's raw power and muscularity, typified by Didier Drogba.

When Carlo Ancelotti yanked Nic Anelka for the big Ivorian, it changed the game and kept United penned in their own half. It helped, too, than Frank Lampard and Michael Essien both looked fully fit.

For all the slings-and-arrows Chelsea had suffered over the last week or so, they punched back with a fury that Lights Leary would approve.

Again, the natural inclination off this one isolated match is to proclaim United dead and Chelsea "back." Well, this win was certainly a panacea for the Blues, but they remain one point above Tottenham for fourth in the Champions League. Torres was once again ineffective and they needed Drogba to ride in and rescue the day, something that his soon-to-be 33-year-old body can't do forever.

All-and-all, this was a high wire, fun, match that never slowed down and always seemed on the verge of a goal. This was a pleasant surprise, since -- like many neutrals -- both Chelsea and United fall somewhere in the range between simple dislike and utter disdain.

For neutrals, it opened up the title race between United and Arsenal ... assuming the Gunners don't give it right back this week, which is their wont to do.

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