As superb the game was for the neutral, Chelsea can feel very aggrieved at the way the first meeting of the season with Manchester United went today.
The Blues went into the game defending a good home record against Fergie’s men, but also with question marks hanging over them about their ability to sustain a title challenge. Given they ended the game with nine men, and fought back from two-down to gain the upper hand, only to be denied by a series of unfortunate events, the questions were answered positively – Chelsea should remain among the challengers.
Not many teams come back against United once they have a stranglehold on the game, but Chelsea did just that. There’s no doubt in my mind that if Chelsea had not been so savagely reduced in numbers, they would have gained a result against United. It’s a bit like saying, “if my brother was a women, he’d be my sister”, admittedly, but at the same time, red card number two looked a bit harsh.
In fact, when Mark Clattenberg brandished the second red, for Fernando Torres, I thought Johnny Evans was the recipient – and so did the United defender! Clattenberg is a card-happy official who has handed out almost 25% of all red cards in the Premier this season – so there may lie the explanation.
Chelsea showed great character today and Mata, Oscar and Hazard all demonstrated why so many plaudits have come their way this season. Circumstances meant that all three had to be subbed at some point, but their contribution was so positive – especially, in my view, Juan Mata, who continues to get better and show real leadership. A Chelsea skipper in the making?
Mata’s goal was superb and the work that went into Ramires’ equalizer was equally impressive. At that point, I would have wagered a Chelsea win, but when Ivanovic was sent to the dressing room – no complaints there – hopes of a win became the consolation of the draw. Then Torres’ sending off started to erode all hopes of getting anything at all.
And so, the winning goal. One word here – offside. Judging by the post-match reaction, United also felt they had been a little lucky. But Chelsea should not be too despondent, they did enough to suggest that the early season effervessence is no fluke and the new wave of optimism that has swept into Stamford Bridge in the aftermath of Munich is warranted.
The two Manchester clubs remain the teams to beat if you want to win a title. It looks like being a three-way race this year, and RDM’s nimble, performing ponies will make Chelsea part of that trio. Chelsea will be in the mix, make no mistake.