Saturday, May 14, 2011

An Envious Look in the Direction of Old Trafford

19 titles, Liverpool off their perch, it is only a matter of time now.

Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea

Some expected a titanic, top of the table clash. I never expected it to live up to that billing, and it didn't.

Chelsea have never approached the attacking excellence they often reached last season. They were on a good run, in terms of results, but that owed a lot to opposition weaknesses and to huge chunks of luck against Tottenham. Still, though many of their players are past their best, their application and professionalism puts Arsenal to shame. After their rotten mid-season run, they have reeled the Gunners in and very nearly did the same to United. That deserves a lot of credit- they have had to grind out a lot of difficult wins.

They were never close at Old Trafford. Terry and Luiz were caught out by a direct United move in the first minute. Hernandez slotted past Cech. Vidic headed another one in from a Giggs cross not long after.

Lampard's second half goal looked to have given Chelsea hope, but they never built any momentum, and nearly all the good chances were at the other end. United must have been nervous but they did not show it. They held out comfortably and their celebrations at the final whistle showed that they know the title is in the bag.

It was a very good way for United to reassert their authority. They had already beaten Chelsea twice in Europe and here they did it again and were superior in every department. United's midfield remains a bit of a mystery. Looking at it on paper, you would expect them to be outpassed and outrun by teams a lot more often than they are. A couple of seasons back, one would have backed Essien, Mikel and Lampard to overpower Giggs and Carrick, but Essien and Lampard are poor shadows of their previous selves. Giggs is enjoying the mother of all indian summers.

Drogba, once so powerful, now looks one-paced, lacks the explosive flourishes of yore. Torres is, it seems, a busted flush, unless they can fix him in the summer.

Malouda and Anelka have both had poor seasons. It's a wonder that Chelsea have come as close as they have because, looking at their squad, it's hard to name a single player who has been as good this season as last.

It's a drum I've been beating for some time, and here we go again: it's a weak Premiership- United are worthy Champions, the best team, but not all that much better than a Chelsea side in clear decline. Things should heat up next season because there is obvious scope for improvement, and a palpable sense of momentum, at both Liverpool and Man City.

For now, we should salute the soon-to-be Champions. They have suffered a lot of criticism this campaign, but ultimately, Arsenal, City and Spurs should get the stick. If this United team is so sub-standard, then those three teams should at least have challenged properly. City and Spurs never theatened to do so, and Arsenal collapsed in embarrassing fashion once the season reached the home straight.

United lack a dominant midfield and their away form has been patchy, at best, but they have continued to play dynamic, exciting, attacking football more often than not. Their game often thrills in a way that Arsenal's very rarely does. They may not keep the ball as well as other teams but they attack at pace and that is an art that Arsene Wenger seems to have forgotten.

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