We live in an amazing world, ladies and gentleman. Chelsea beat Manchester United at Old Trafford thanks to a late goal from Juan Mata. A really late goal. It was a must-win game as the Blues look to secure Champions League qualification. The points were claimed in dramatic fashion. And we live in a world in which the story of the match is a smile. Which is a little bit silly.
So let's talk about the match (don't worry, smile-gate will be discussed eventually). The first thing to note is that United have already wrapped up the Premier League, meaning that this match was utterly irrelevant as far as they're concerned. That means we probably don't get many bragging rights over the victory -- it's a bit like beating Usain Bolt in a race while he's taking a nap. Still, in the context of the disappointment that is this Premier League season, it was a vital win, and Chelsea don't really play for bragging rights anyway.
That Sir Alex Ferguson was indifferent to the outcome was obvious from his team selection. His central midfield trio featured Phil Jones, Anderson and Tom Cleverley and by the end of the match could reasonably described as having no central midfielders at all. Michael Carrick and David de Gea didn't play. Patrice Evra started*.
*Yeah, I know this happens in real games too. But it shouldn't.
Chelsea also had some key absentees. Neither John Obi Mikel nor Eden Hazard made the 18, with the latter ruled out with a tight calf as a precaution for Wednesday's match against Tottenham Hotspur and Mikel missing because Rafa Benitez has murdered him and has hidden the body in a skip somewhere. Hazard, of course, was the impetus behind the team's stirring comeback against United in the FA Cup, and it was not unreasonable to worry that without him, the Blues might lack a cutting edge.
Which is exactly what happened, although it's unclear whether or not Hazard would have made much of a difference. Because, like we've seen so often this year, Chelsea's problems were at centre forward. Make no mistake -- Demba Ba had a poor match. His runs were good enough, his hold up play was adequate, but his finishing was an utter mess.
Ba should have put us up 1-0 in the third minute. With United's defence half-asleep, Mata slung in a cross from the right and the striker nipped in between Johnny Evans and Nemanja Vidic to... miss. From close range. By quite a lot. A second Mata-inspired chance came and went shortly thereafter. Considering how important the match was, the misses were infuriating.
Oscar showed the Senegalese how things are done with a nice move that warranted a goal. Picking up possession in the United half, the 21-year-old scampered forward, forcing his way into the box and squeezing off a shot that Andres Lindegaard did very well to tip onto the post. Chelsea were well on top by this point, and it felt like a goal was imminent.
But inexplicably, they didn't press the attack. United were allowed to get back into the game, and it was the hosts who shaded the rest of the half. They never got particularly close to scoring, but the likes of Antonio Valencia and Robin van Persie were stretching the Blues defence and there were a few terrifying moments in front of Petr Cech's goal. Chelsea, meanwhile, were playing an odd game that involved Cesar Azpilcueta playing in some terrible crosses and Lindegaard catching them. It wasn't much fun.
It wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that we came out firing in the second half. Although United were pretty well beaten back, Chelsea's attack wasn't clicking and they repeatedly made errors on the final pass. Nobody was immune to it -- Mata, Oscar, Moses, Lampard, Ramires and Ba were all making mistakes -- and with the game still in doubt it was a rather irksome display.
Howard Webb wasn't doing us any favours. He'd already looked the other way in the first half as Evans manhandled Ba, but his non-call when Giggs yanked down David Luiz as the centre back looked to burst into the box was particularly egregious. Alexander Buttner elbowing Azpilicueta in the face was similarly ignored, and the string of minor injustices culminated in David Luiz blowing up at the referee over a wrongly-assigned throw-in*.
*It's worth noting that Webb was actually incompetent in Chelsea's favour as well -- he managed to ignore Ramires trying to kick Phil Jones in the head after being fouled, which would have been a straight red card and incredibly problematic.
Between that yellow card and the start of the half, both teams had made tactical changes. Fernando Torres donned his mask and replaced Moses (although Chelsea stayed in a 4-2-3-1, with Torres on the left), while Ferguson opted to make his fetish for football-without-midfielders a reality by hauling off Tom Cleverley and Anderson for Buttner and Wayne Rooney.
Rooney's introduction would make the difference. His first touch saw him give away possession in his own half, his second wasted a promising United attack. He wasn't tracking back. And eventually, his failure to hold onto the ball led to the game's only goal. Ramires stole the ball off him 30 yards from Cech's goal and burst forward, eventually getting to the edge of the United box and backheeling for Oscar.
With Mata unmarked on the left, the pass was obvious, and Mata was duly found. Unlike most of the other times Chelsea had the ball in good positions, the Special Juan didn't feel the need to complicate things with a clever pass or a trick. He shot, and the ball deflected off Jones, met Lindegaard's fingers, the inside of the post, and finally the back of the net. 87 minutes had elapsed. I screamed a bit. Some people -- possibly including the official stats-keepers -- are calling it a Jones own goal. To them I say do one.
And now we get to the smile incident.
Let's not beat about the bush: Smiles kill. As we all know, the English Civil War was brought about because Charles I smiled too much at the Pope, and after that Oliver Cromwell tried to ban Christmas. Therefore, I think it's pretty clear that smiles are evil, and we should shun any person who indulges them. Or something.
David Luiz is not an easy man to play against. He's far more rough and tumble than he looks; if I had to go up against him and his flailing arms I'd leave the pitch fairly well bruised. And he's also pretty calculating -- he likes to draw players into fouls. He'd already annoyed van Persie to the point that the former Arsenal man shoved a hand in his face, and immediately after the goal Rafael was his target.
Some elbowing/shouldering/general tussling later, David Luiz had possession by the corner flag and Rafael had had enough, giving his compatriot a rather nasty kick in the Achilles right in front of lineswoman Sian Massey. David Luiz went to ground holding his ankle*, and about seven seconds later decided he was perfectly alright and got back up. Webb dismissed Rafael for the kick, and United were down to ten.
*Experiment: If you think his reaction was unreasonable, find someone, preferably male and athletic, to kick you quite hard in the achilles tendon. Record your reaction.
Which would be all well and good if not for the fact that David Luiz had smiled before he got up. To some, he was gloating over Rafael's red card, which is a nonsense because Webb didn't produce one until well after the defender was ambulatory. To others, he was betraying the fact that he was faking being hurt -- I would suggest that those who ascribe to that particular school of thought a) try the experiment above and b) consider that giving away the fact that one is cheating while still playing football would be a totally insane thing to do. Sergio Busquets gave a sly peep. David Luiz grinned like a loon.
But the fact that United fans are screaming bloody murder about it is kind of fun. Schadenfreude is life's truest pleasure, after all.