So that could have gone better, I suppose. Chelsea went to Old Trafford with two goals in mind - to lay a marker down and to not lose to Manchester United. They rather spectacularly failed to accomplish the latter, going down 3-0 at half time and failing to mount much of a fightback in the second period, but as for the former... well, it's debatable just what this match really meant. Mostly because it was insane.
When last the Blues made the trip to Manchester, Carlo Ancelotti was in charge of a club that was making a surprise run at the title despite being in fifth place in January. That dream ended after 37 seconds of football, when Javier Hernandez raced onto a pass which David Luiz failed to track and planted the ball past Petr Cech. Although the Blues only ended up losing 2-1, it was abundantly clear that United were the better side and deserving champions. Chelsea were humbled.
That was May, however, and things are a little different these days. And no, it's not just because Chelsea lost by less last time around.
Andre Villas-Boas made some interesting choices in his team selection, opting to use Raul Meireles as a holding midfielder rather than John Obi Mikel, Branislav Ivanovic as a centre back rather than David Luiz and Daniel Sturridge over Nicolas Anelka on the right. Fernando Torres got the start at centre forward - not that Chelsea had an option here, with Didier Drogba still out injured and Romelu Lukaku too green to be starting an important Premier League match. It was a bold lineup, designed to outscore United in a shootout rather than shut up shop. Obviously, it didn't work, but it made for an extremely interesting game.
Things started in fairly promising fashion, with United struggling to get much together while the Blues threw themselves forward, weaving lovely patterns and testing David de Gea's goal. However, the hosts have long been a threat on the counterattack, and they're particularly dangerous this season as for some reason every single shot they're taking finds the back of the net. So it was here.
A poor piece of play saw Jose Bosingwa win the ball and then immediately give it away due to a lack of support in his own defensive third. The right back was then forced to commit a foul, and the free kick was swung into the box and into Cech's goal via the waiting head of Chris Smalling, who was unmarked and offside, with the one probably related to the other. It's difficult to assign blame to the defenders for a goal that was pretty obviously illegal, but you can't simply rely on the linesman to bail you out of situations like that - about five United players were in the box and untracked on that goal.
Anyway, United led 1-0 on an early goal (we did survive five minutes longer than last time, which was nice), and Chelsea... completely ignored it and went right on attacking. Fernando Torres was gifted possession and missed. Sturridge took about fifty shots from range, which was annoying, and de Gea somehow made a phenomenal kick save from Ramires when the Brazilian midfielder was found by Torres ten yards out and with a seemingly empty net to aim at.
That should have been the equaliser, and the match should have been 1-1. Instead, it was quickly 2-0, when Nani came back from an offside position to receive a long crossfield pass, blow past Juan Mata and Raul Meireles and whallop a shot past Cech and into the top corner. It was a class goal, and even if it was offside it was impressive enough that it's hard to do much but applaud Nani's ability. Much is being made of Mata's failure to tackle the winger, to which I reply that a man the size of Frodo god damn Baggins shouldn't be expected to tackle anyone at all.
So, it was 2-0 without United doing much of anything, and on two goals that were questionable at the very least. Chelsea were facing an uphill battle, but they kept fighting, only for Wayne Rooney to score thanks mostly to a Phil Jones surge up the pitch and a ludicrous piece of defending whereby John Terry played a bank pass off Nani to present the ball to Rooney four yards out and with an empty net. Whoops.
And then halftime came and Chelsea were down 3-0. Yikes. It was difficult to absorb the fact that we were getting hammered at Old Trafford despite arguably outplaying United, especially in light of what happened to Arsenal a few weeks ago. The team was playing very well in the attack, and had absolutely nothing to show for it, and although the defence was relatively poor it wasn't concede-three-goals-in-a-half poor.
At that point, Chelsea had a roughly zero percent chance of winning or drawing, so the second half was more about pride than anything else. Of course, they probably didn't need to play for pride, having performed pretty well before the break, but the scoreline wasn't exactly friendly and Chelsea needed a goal. In order to accomplish this, Villas-Boas played with the formation, withdrawing an ineffective Lampard and putting on Nicolas Anelka in his place, switching Mata to the creator role in a 4-2-1-3.
It worked, and Chelsea pulled a goal back almost immediately, when Anelka slipped Torres through and the striker lifted the ball expertly over de Gea. United the attempted to reply, Nani thundering into the box and slamming a shot against Petr Cech's crossbar. Red shirts scrambled for the rebound, at which point Jose Bosingwa tripped up his compatriot, conceding the inevitable penalty, which Rooney missed in a fashion which would be far more amusing if not for what was to come.
[Insert description of now-infamous Torres miss and wish for author to give Torres a big hug]
Aside from that horrible miss, several other things happened in the second half. Rooney hit the post and Hernandez was wiped out by Ashely Cole, more or less on the same play. The only reason that wasn't a penalty is because the ball was out of play when the fullback hit United's young striker, but Phil Dowd brandished a yellow card regardless. It was a disgusting challenge and Cole should consider himself lucky not to have been forced off the pitch. No such luck for Chicharito, though - Berbatov ended up replacing him.
Anyway, Chelsea huffed and puffed but couldn't come up with the goals needed to tie up the match. Truthfully, it had been lost long before - at 2-0 down they had a 1.6% chance of winning the game - so it was no real shame to see them trudge off the field at 3-1. It was actually a very encouraging performance from the Blues, even if they lost. They played some very good football and gave United scares throughout, and honestly, the match could have finished with in any four-goal permutation one could have asked for.
So, we come away from the game three points down but with some renewed confidence in Chelsea. Not a bad tradeoff after a very strange football match. Oh, and I've done some upgrading of the WPA charts, based on ball position (which doesn't take into account the number of players between the ball and the goal, before you ask):
Hopefully the chart will look happier for Swansea!