Samuel Eto'o hattrick dispatches impotent United

Mike Hewitt

The best part, I think, was injury time. Manchester United, facing a two-goal deficit, could have made things interesting had they had any faith in themselves -- Javier Hernandez had already scored a typically annoying Javier Hernandez goal -- but their spirit, their very aura of Manchester-United-ness, has been so thoroughly dismantled under David Moyes' reign that rather than going for us and hitting us while we were wobbling they decided to assault our players instead, guaranteeing themselves suspensions and Chelsea the three points.

And true to current form, they weren't very good at hurting our players.

It's fashionable and fun to deride this United side as a mediocre, mid-table team, one which we should expect to easily brush aside at Stamford Bridge. That's fair enough, but they're still Manchester United, and we haven't beat them this emphatically in years. It's something to savour, a victory to drink in. They're still relevant enough that we can take joy in their misery.

The match began with a surprise. Jose Mourinho has previously said that Branislav Ivanovic wouldn't be ready to play as he fought to recover from that injury he suffered against Liverpool, so naturally he started at right back. And the surprises continued -- the visitors actually looked shockingly competent in the opening stages, pinning the Blues back in their own half and unleashing some rather furious pressure whenever we tried to get out.

But without the likes of Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie, United have the cutting edge of a soggy newspaper, and a thumping shot from Ashley Young aside failed to call Petr Cech into action. Their dominance only lasted a few minutes, but it was enough to spur Chelsea, and specifically Samuel Eto'o, into action.

The Cameroonian had been something of a disappointment after signing on a free from Anzhi Makhachkala, but his performance today will ensure that he'll live forever in Chelsea folklore. Seventeen minutes in, as the Blues found their feet, Eto'o received the ball on the right wing. Nothing was on, so he proceeded to annihilate Phil Jones, come inside, and sent a shot off Michael Carrick's outstretched leg* and into the top corner to give us a 1-0 lead.

*I'm assuming this was intentional because doing so makes me happy.

It wasn't against the run of play -- by then, Phil Dowd's constant whistling for bitty fouls in midfield had ensured that 'run of play' was merely hypothetical -- but it's probably fair to say it was a sucker punch. United weren't looking like going behind, and lo! they were behind.

David Luiz added further spice to the proceedings by attempting (for reasons passing understanding) to decapitate Antonio Valencia with his buttocks. The resultant booking would have been more worrying had the visitors' midfield consisted of more than a man with a bovine brain transplant and a statuesque farce whom Xavi talks up as an extended, elaborate practical joke.

United's only threat came from Adnan Januzaj, who cemented his place as one of the best youngsters in European football by terrorising the unfit-looking Ivanovic. But he had no support whenever he did manage to wriggle clear, and so United's best moments involved low crosses hit at speed across the box to absolutely nobody -- unless you want to count Danny Welbeck shooting straight at Cech after a mistake from John Terry left him with a free shot from six yards, which United fans probably don't.

Still, the match remained stressful. As the minutes rolled down towards the interval, there was not a Chelsea fan alive who wouldn't have been worried about an equaliser before halftime. But instead, we were presented with a gift, and went into the break with a 2-0 lead.

I'm not entirely sure what Nemanja Vidic was playing at after Jonny Evans cleared Willian's delivery. But for such an accomplished defender, the mistake he made in holding back while the rest of his team pushed out almost beggars belief. The Serbian's position gave Chelsea a three-on-one attack, and the unmarked Eto'o duly swept in Gary Cahill's cross to double the Blues' advantage.

Another set piece would kill off the visitors once and for all. Cahill, who had a very good match, escaped Evans on a corner in the 49th minute, forcing De Gea into an excellent save which turned out to be not quite excellent enough. Eto'o pounced on the rebound, slamming in from about six inches out and becoming only the fourth player to score a Premier League hattrick against Manchester United. If that isn't worth £5 million a year in wages, I don't know what is.

The game was over, but with United the only team to ever come back from a 3-0 against us in the league, and they did it at Stamford Bridge, there was still a nagging doubt that they might find some way of magically coming back. Cech did his best to give them a chance to get back into the match when he busted out a breakdance routine using the ball as a prop on his own goalline, but Hernandez (on as a substitute) was sufficiently confounded that we escaped. Unfortunately, the clean sheet was erased eight minutes later when the striker tucked in a mis-hit Jones shot from close range.

But there was to be no comeback -- Mourinho is not Andre Villas-Boas, after all. Chelsea switched to 4-3-3, adding both John Obi Mikel and re-debutante Nemanja Matic to the fray, and United were cowed into accepting a multiple-goal loss. There was hardly a significant attack to be found in the last ten minutes unless one wishes to count Vidic's flying tackle of Eden Hazard or Rafael's assault of Gary Cahill, the result of months of frustration from two of United's better players.

Hopefully the cards were worth it, kids. In the meantime, Chelsea's win ensures that they remain in touch with Arsenal and the better Manchester team, and open up a twelve-point cushion on this evening's opponents. Today has been a very good day.

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