Team Shape: 4-3-3 to start, although an extremely defensive variant playing two defensive midfielders (Michael Essien and Jon Obi Mikel). Team failed to link up through the middle effectively, primarily due to some laxity in passing from the aforementioned midfielders. As a result they were lacking in penetration, unable to trouble United save for long range potshots and set pieces. Manager Carlo Ancelotti switched things to the more familiar 4<4>2, playing Essien at the base. It's unclear whether Essien improved his delivery as a result of the formation change or simply having more playing time under his belt, but Chelsea instantly looked more fluid. Unfortunately it came at the cost of the two-man defensive shield, exposing a suddenly weak left side for the second Manchester United goal before the Blues clawed one back. Obviously, 4-3-3 and the diamond are both tried and tested, so there were no major tricks going on here.
Player-by-player after the jump (be warned; it's a lengthy post). Before that, though, why don't you get involved? Who's your man of the match?
GK Henrique Hilario: Hilario was mostly untroubled throughout the match. Left exposed by his defence for United's first two goals, the Portuguese keeper should have positioned himself better for the third, his advance allowing Dimitar Berbatov an easy chip to finish up an incisive move down United's left side. Did not make any difficult saves, but looked steadier than Petr Cech usually does on crosses.
LB Ashley Cole: Normally, we might expect Ashley Cole to be a solid defender and a potent attacking threat. Unfortunately, this was one of his weakest games in a Chelsea shirt. Cole was mediocre down the left side on attack, and consistently out of position on defence. Cole was at least partially responsible for United's first two goals. In one particularly disappointing passage of play, Ashley retrieved the ball after a Chelsea corner only to dally on the ball and get robbed by Antonio Valencia, who was able to launch a quick counter-attack. One of the few England players in South Africa who didn't totally disappoint, Cole is going to have to revert back to his usual outstanding form if he wants to keep his place ahead of an impressive Yuri Zhirkov. (substituted in minute 79)
LB Yuri Zhirkov: Solid defensively, keeping his position down the left side despite making frequent forays into the United half. Not challenged by any Manchester player and not at all at fault for Berbatov's goal. Looked good on attack, lacking Cole's speed but able to combine very well with Lampard and Benayoun to open up the United defence several times late in the game. Excellent performance in limited time. (substitute appearance from minute 79)
LCB John Terry (C): Terry's lack of pace should not have been a major problem sandwiched between Ashley Cole and Serbian Branislav Ivanovic, both elite defenders with more than enough speed to cover for the Chelsea captain. However, Terry was left in a footrace with Wayne Rooney for the first goal, and having lost it appear to back away from the challenge, allowing his England teammate an easy opportunity to centre the ball for the assist on Manchester United's first goal. For the most part he was his usual dominant self in the air, but a misjudgment on an attempted clearance nearly let Valencia in behind the Chelsea lines. Dealt comfortably with the speed of Javier Hernandez, mainly due to the physical mismatch and Hernandez's inability to time runs (nerves?). Comfortable in his attacking role, and had a handful of excellent passes that should have been capitalised on more effectively by his teammates. Overall performance was not as bad as it looked.
RCB Branislav Ivanovic: Ivanovic was so successful as Chelsea's right back last season that it's easy to forget that his natural position is probably as a centre half. Ivanovic was the best defender on the pitch by far yesterday, mopping up everything thrown at him and dealing with some extremely tricky situations in his own penalty box, the most impressive being a leaping clearance that saw him hit the ball back over his own shoulder while navigating through the attentions of two United players (the play was called back for offside). He may well be the best central defender Chelsea have on the roster at present, with Ricardo Carvalho's slow decline, Alex's all-around averageness, and Terry's one-dimensionality, and he should at least be considered in the role during the season. Having him in the lineup as a centre back also allows him to assume a more attacking role during corners, and he came very close to scoring off one, getting the better of compatriot Nemanja Vidic only for Edwin van der Sar to make a spectacular save. Excellent performance, but he really could have done with intercepting the cross from Valencia to Hernandez for United's second.
RB Paolo Feirrera: Feirrera is the injured Jose Bosingwa's second understudy at right back, but he showed he can still play mostly effectively against difficult competition. Most of United's pressure being brought to bear on the opposite flank, meaning that he did not have too much to worry about, but there was also very little good to talk about either. Feirrera looked marginal when he went forward and his deliveries into the box were not exactly the stuff of dreams. Most important play came when he failed to track Javier Hernandez's run for United's second goal, leaving the Mexican striker wide open at the far post. (substituted in minute 79)
RB Jeffrey Bruma: Bruma made an appearance late on, and the young Dutchman showed his age. More properly a centre half, the 18-year old Bruma was deployed on the right side of the back four, and was shrugged aside with ease by Berbatov as the Bulgarian scored United's third goal, Bruma having been out of position and on the wrong side of his man as a result. On the attack, he was slow and his passes were inaccurate enough to upset Chelsea's tempo. Not the most inspiring cameo. (substitute appearance from minute 79)
CDM Jon Obi Mikel: Mikel's absence last season forced Chelsea into playing German international Michael Ballack as a holding midfielder for uncomfortably large portions of the year. A knee injury ruled him out of the world cup, and so he's been featured more often than most regulars in the preseason. If that helped him shake off the rust, it didn't show during the match, as his passes were constantly going astray and he was playing a teammate into pressure far too often. While he was supposed to be the shield in front of Terry and Ivanovic, he found himself chasing shadows frequently in the first half, and it was only the ineffective play of striker Michael Owen that allowed his mistakes to go more or less unnoticed. Ancelotti may experiment with formations which involve adding a central defensive midfielder, but with Michael Essien clearly above him on the depth chart and new signing Ramires showing great promise, Mikel has to be wary of losing his place in the side. His withdrawal signaled Chelsea's shift from a 4-3-3 to a midfield diamond. (substituted in minute 60)
RM/CDM Michael Essien: Essien started on the right side of the middle band and eventually moved to the base of the diamond after Ancelotti tinkered about with the formation in the second half. He played adequately enough as a right midfielder, albeit with the lack of polish one might associate with a player who's been injured for the better part of a year. There were a few mishit passes and a few poor runs into contested space, but by and large he looked like the Essien of old, especially when a volley or three was ballooned wide. After the tactical shift, however, he was probably Chelsea's best player. Essien dictated Chelsea's attacking play from then on, his contributions culminating in a jaw-dropping pass through the entire United team to unleash Daniel Sturridge upon the United goal. Was limping around towards the end of the game, but quickly shook it off after Saloman Kalou scored.
LM Frank Lampard: Lampard had an ineffective time of things, as much as my lovely fiance will hit me for saying so. His runs were slightly off and so he rarely found himself in shooting position (he sliced his one shot well wide), and he only started to combine well with his teammates once Nicolas Anelka and Ashley Cole had been replaced by Didier Drogba and Yuri Zhirkov. He had scored in both friendly matches prior to yesterday's, so there's no room to doubt his abilities to get the ball in the net, but it's obvious that Lampard needs a little more time to gel with the team. His deliveries on corner kicks were dangerous, but not remarkably so, and a few instances of being caught in possession dragged down his game somewhat.
LAM/CAM Florent Malouda: Malouda was perhaps a touch below his usual self, which means he was still one of the most potent attacking forces on either side. While the clever passes weren't there, he still managed to take Vidic to the cleaners repeatedly and had one of Chelsea's better scoring chances. It's exciting to see Malouda come from abject failure to Chelsea star, and this was a relatively encouraging performance, consolidating his gains from last season. Would be nice to see him combine better with Lampard, but that'll take a little more time. Probably should have been putting more pressure on Paul Scholes, but considering the Englishman did his best to break Malouda's legs early on, Florent's shyness is perhaps understandable. (substituted in minute 73)
CAM Yossi Benayoun: Benayoun made his Chelsea debut as a substitute, replacing Malouda at the tip of Chelsea's diamond late in the second half. He didn't have much time to make an impact, but his footwork in tight situations was appreciated. Perhaps not used to the fullest, but he was never going to be one of Chelsea's biggest weapons anyway. (substitute appearance from minute 73)
RAM/RM Saloman Kalou: Scorer of the only Chelsea goal in the contest after Edwin van der Sar spilled a Daniel Sturridge longe range strike, Kalou looked lively throughout the contest. Unfortunately, for all his endeavours, he didn't give the Blues any penetration with his runs, and was guilty of losing the ball on more than a few occasions. Things could have been different had he found Michael Essien with a teasing ball across the face of the goal early on. Apart from the goal, which was an easy finish past Nemanja Vidic, only shot of note was hit from distance straight at Edwin van der Sar. All in all, a fairly typical Kalou performance. Unless he improves (and there's plenty of time), he's still a reserve striker for a championship team.
F Nicolas Anelka: Anelka hasn't looked this ineffective since... well, since the last time he played, in June. Le Sulk's poor performances had previously been reserved for when he put on the national team jersey - last year he was at least as valuable as Didier Drogba (albeit in a more subtle fashion), and much was expected from the Frenchman this year. Scratch this up to a slow start if you're feeling generous, because Anelka was uninspired of thought and slothful of movement, crippling the nose of Chelsea's 4-3-3 until he was replaced with half an hour left. Not a good sign at all. (substituted in minute 60)
F Didier Drogba: Chelsea's very own battering ram, recently recovered from a groin injury, featured for the final thirty minutes of the game. Drogba amused himself by terrifying whoever got in his way. One incisive run saw him bulldoze through whoever United's holding midfielder was at the time (Carrick?) and then deftly flick the ball past the covering centre half to rip open the United middle. Never got much of a shooting chance - if some of Chelsea's better opportunities had fallen to the poacher the game probably would have gone a little differently. (substitute appearance from minute 60)
F Daniel Sturridge: Came into the game alongside Drogba as Chelsea switched to the diamond with two up front. The England youngster made some noise, and should be given most of the credit for the only Blues goal, his vicious shot too hot for Edwin van der Sar to handle. Inexperience showed when released one on one with the goalkeeper - he rushed his shot and gave the United man an easy save. Showed the ability to get past defenders, a skill so far absent from his repertoire. Still 20, he's showing all the skills to have a long career for club and country; he might even be ready for significant playing time as soon as this year. (substitute appearance from minute 60)