Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea: Five lessons to be learned

by Sam Peoples

A mixed response to Real Madrid woes. The only remedy to help Manchester United fans and players move on from the travesty of Tuesday was to get straight back in to playing football. Chelsea at home in an FA Cup quarter-final was the perfect opportunity for that with the Benitez factor adding extra spice.

And for the first 45 minutes, it was a dream recovery. Two quick fire goals from Hernandez and Rooney set the tone for what was a fantastic half of football but a second half implosion almost sent United crashing out of two tournaments in five days – what a catastrophe that would have been.

Ferguson will be happy to see the response that the players gave in the first half, showing that they are mentally strong enough to overcome the heartbreak of the Champions League exit, but he will be equally as worried after that second half.

United now have a weeks break before a home game against Reading and given the week the team has had, it will be some much needed time away from the limelight to readjust their minds ahead of one of our most important Premier League run-ins ever.

Lucky to still be in the FA Cup. Today typified the football cliche of it being a ‘game of two halves’. For the first 45, Manchester United were absolutely dominant. Chelsea were being made to look like a poorly constructed pub team.

Just like at Stamford Bridge in the league this season, United fired out of the blocks with two goals in the first 15 minutes courtesy of Hernandez and Rooney. As the half progressed, United looked like the only team who were going to score with Carrick dictating the play and Chelsea had no answer with Ferdinand and Evans sweeping up everything they threw at them.

Then, United tried their hardest to throw it all away with the worst second half performance this season. Instead of looking to kill the game off, we sat back and invited Chelsea’s pressure onto us – they duly obliged. The introduction of Hazard gave them a new dimension that we couldn’t stop, it was a fantastic individual finish mind, and from then on it was all Chelsea.

And if it wasn’t for an absolutely world class David De Gea save at the death, United would have lost. Ferguson blamed it on fatigue but whatever it was, it reeked of the complacency which tore our Champions League and Premier League campaigns apart last season.

Defensive polarisation. Our first half display was fantastic and Evans and Ferdinand reigned supreme. They swatted away every Chelsea attack with consummate ease, Rafael and Evra brought the game forward superbly and De Gea was solid between the sticks. We couldn’t of looked more comfortable.

If the first half was yin, the second was yang. Our entire team, not just the defence, seemed to forget how to pass to a team-mate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen United give up possession so cheaply more often than in that second half. Every time United went to clear it, it fell to a Chelsea player.

What happened to the defensive structure as well? Evra was nowhere to be seen for Ramires’ equaliser and the team looked at sixes and sevens whenever Chelsea pressed. It was shambolic at times and a far cry from the superb performance in the first half that warranted a 2-0 lead.

Hernandez and Chelsea. He has now scored four goals in five FA Cup ties this season. Hernandez is the best natural marksman Manchester United have had since Ruud van Nistelrooy and he always looks like he is going to score when a chance falls his way.

What I like most about Hernandez’s finishing is the sheer variety of goals he scores. Headers, left foot, right foot, backheels et al – he’s scored the lot.

Given the position he has been put in at Manchester United this year with the purchase of van Persie, the rise of Welbeck and the continued presence of Rooney, Hernandez has been outstanding. He has the best goals-to-minutes ratio out of all four strikers, a goal every 93 minutes (van Persie is one every 123 minutes for comparison) and has shown an endearing attitude that is infectious.

He’s exactly the sort of striker any squad needs. Someone who really can pull a goal out of the proverbial hat. Don’t underestimate his importance to the squad, especially going into the run-in. He’ll most certainly score some more important goals for us  this season.

Not what Nani needed. It was no surprise to see Nani’s name in the starting XI after the personal heartbreak of Tuesday’s disappointment against Real Madrid. The only way for him to move on mentally would be to get straight back on the horse and put in a good performance. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

He was pulled off just before half-time with what looked like a tight hamstring and given the fact it was heavily strapped in medical tape, it was bothering him before kick-off. The injury must have played it’s part because Nani really struggled to have any sort of positive influence on the game. His half was littered with misplaced passes and a lack of energy, far from the ideal remedy after Tuesday that he desperately needed.

Right now, who knows where Nani’s head is. Talk of a potential move away from Manchester United has been rife all season and I felt that the game against Real Madrid was Nani’s big chance to show the fans just why it would be such a loss if he left. Up until his red card that is exactly what Nani did as he stretched Madrid’s defence, notching himself an assist on the way.

The next few weeks are going to be critical for Nani. Will he mentally crumble under the guilt he probably feels from the Madrid game or will he use it to fuel the rest of his season? Either way, these are certainly going to be testing times for Nani’s United career.