On a sunny afternoon on the hallowed grounds of Wembley, Chelsea hopes for the Charity Shield were dashed by Manchester United in a game far closer than the 3-1 scoreline would suggest. There was a touch of controversy with some referring decisions, some wasted chances, and a freak goal or two, but it's hard to get too annoyed since the game didn't matter at all and nobody was hurt (not for lack of trying on Paul Scholes's part, mind you).
It was a pretty entertaining game of end-to-end football, helped considerably by some poor defensive play. Jon Obi Mikel looked out of sorts as the holding midfielder of the 4-3-3, drifting in and out of position and misplacing far too many passes for comfort. Michael Essien was in similar straits, the Ghanaian midfielder simply putting the ball in the wrong place for much of the first half. It was Ashley Cole, however, whose lackadaisical play was most concerning, as he doesn't really have the excuse of coming back from a long-term injury for his misdeeds on the field (perhaps his mind was in Spain?). Within ten minutes, Cole was caught out at left back by a ball behind him to United winger Antonio Valencia. Fortunately, nothing came of the shot, lofted harmlessly at Chelsea goalkeeper Hilario, but it was a harbinger of things to come.
In the meantime, Chelsea were looking reasonably comfortable up front. Saloman Kalou very nearly connected with Michael Essien on a rolling pass across the face of the goal after a mistake by Edwin Van de Sar, and it took a phenomenal save by the Dutch goalkeeper to deny Branislav Invanovic, playing at centre-half instead of his usual right-back position, a headed goal from a corner. In the meantime veteran United midfielder Paul Scholes was amusing himself by eviscerating Chelsea's lines with stunning long passes and then making trademark absurd tackles, Florent Malouda the victim of a particularly vicious scything down in the centre circle. There was to be no booking, much to Carlo Ancelotti's disgust, but that's almost certainly a yellow card in a competitive fixture. A few minutes later Essien was denied a penalty after a poor challenge by Brazilian left back Fabio de Silva as he threatened to break into the area.
After about the 25th minute, the game went into a bit of a lull. Frank Lampard's slightly over-hit flick to Ashley Cole in the United box the only chance of note before the deadlock was broken in the 41st.
Paul Scholes was the architect, sending a searching pass from barely inside the Chelsea half towards the run of Wayne Rooney, who skinned captain John Terry down the left flank and sent a blind pass into the penalty area. Cole failed to pick up the run of Valencia (not for the first or last time), and the Ecaudorian winger was left with the task of dispatching a deft chip over Hilario into the Chelsea net. United 1, Chelsea 0. Whoopsies. Aside from a long-range effort by Essien that flew well wide, the opening goal was the last real action of the half.
Chelsea emerged for the second period unchanged, but three new faces were introduced for United - Dimitar Berbatov, Nani, and Javier Hernandez (not Chicharito: if Cuauhtémoc Blanco doesn't have 'Fat Old Man' on his jersey, this kid doesn't get to have 'Little Pea' on his). Hernandez's introduction set off a shower of praise from the FSC announcing crew, who elevated him to godhood based on a set of overhit passes, ill-timed run, and two shanked finishes (more on this later, I promise). As you might be able to tell, something about this kid pisses me off, and it's probably the way everyone has a crush on him. SHUT UP UNTIL HE DOES SOMETHING.
Anyway, the Blues started off the second half very strong as a wave of shirts crashed towards the United box again and again. Malouda nearly grazed the far post on a 25-yard shot, and Didier Drogba began making threatening movements on the Chelsea bench - not a happy sight for any team on the back foot. United still popped up with the odd counterattack, Hernandez's first touch of the game being a clever backheel that would have released Berbatov in the area had it not been hit about three times as hard as it needed to be, but they were clearly in significant danger of conceding again. Kalou had a shot snapped up by van der Sar, and moments later Essien barely missed on a carbon copy of Malouda's effort. Ashley Cole then failed to take advantage of a mess in the box by shooting (albeit off balance, with the outside of his weak right foot) straight at the keeper. In the meantime Mikel, Malouda and Anelka were hauled off to be replaced by Drogba, Daniel Sturridge, and Chelsea new boy Yossi Benayoun - Ancelotti's 4-3-3 shifting to a diamond midfield to accommodate the substitutions.
And then United scored again. Cole was caught napping again, Valencia slid the ball through to the far post, where Javier Hernandez waited, dripping poise and malice towards all lesser beings. I'll assume that kicking the ball into his own head while faced with an open goal wasn't the intent, but it worked out regardless, everybody involved looking extremely embarrassed as the ball trickled over the line after the young Mexican's right footed effort had caught him flush in the face and ricocheted goalwards. United 2, Chelsea 0. The circumstances leading up to the goal were funny enough that I forgot to scream at Ashley Cole, whose recent time with the rest of the England squad appears to have drained him of his talent.
Ancelotti had seen enough of Cole as well, deciding to replace both full-backs at once. Yuri Zhirkov (the most friendly looking Russian in the world) and Dutch prospect Jeffrey Bruma switching in for Cole and Paolo Ferreira respectively. Chelsea were pretty annoyed by this point, and Essien decided to get things moving again, playing a pass through two bands of United players to send Daniel Sturridge one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The youngster failed to get the ball past van der Sar, but it signaled a long spell of Chelsea pressure that quickly resulted in a goal. Sturridge again had a shot saved, this time from outside the box, but it was hit with such venom that van der Sar could only drop the ball onto Saloman Kalou's foot, the Ivorian guiding the ball past Nemanja Vidic and into the net. United 2, Chelsea 1, and it was suddenly game on. Somewhere in there was another appaling tackle by Paul Scholes, Lampard the
Chelsea had several opportunities to equalise in the dying minutes of the game, but they (rightly) lacked much sense of urgency. After pinging the ball around the United box for five minutes, well into injury time, they finally yielded possession and didn't seem particularly inclined to get it back. A basic mistake by Bruma gave Berbatov space to run, and two touches later - one of them an absolutely delicious chip over Hilario - and Manchester United had scored again. Oopsies. Berbatov's effort would wrap things up, as the final score ended up being United 3, Chelsea 1. The game could really have gone in any direction, and neither team was impressive, but United probably edged it overall based on the extremely poor play of Ashley Cole and John Terry, which is hardly encouraging for Chelsea or England.
Fortunately, the game didn't matter one bit, and despite what the announcers will tell you, the Blues go into the season full of confidence. A shaky pre-season means nothing, and the champions will look forward to their opening day fixture against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
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