Sunday provided a potentially crucial victory for the Blues as they extended their lead at the top to five points. Their hunt for Premier League glory was reiterated with a 1-0 win over fellow challengers Manchester United albeit after a unspectacular display in front of the Chelsea Pensioners. Chelsea captain John Terry provided the breakthrough in the 77th minute as the defender flicked on a free-kick past Edwin van der Sar. The goal was enough to secure a further three points at home for the Blues as they equalled their previous record of 11 successive home victories. A tactical game, of which Sir Alex Ferguson may feel aggrieved to have been on the losing end of after a seemingly controversial free-kick was awarded by referee Martin Atkinson, resulting in the deciding goal.
An aggressive quick paced start by United created an open game which suited the visitors more so than the narrow tactics of the Blues. Lacking natural width through Carlo Ancelotti’s preferred diamond formation, United were able to utilise their wide assets in Antonio Valencia and Ryan Giggs who in turn provided Wayne Rooney with opportunities to turn and face the Blues’ goal. Ashley Cole was incapable of venturing forward, restricted by the presence of Valencia whose pace on the counter was a risk Cole and Ancelotti were unwilling to take. On the opposite flank for the Blues, the absence of Jose Bosingwa in attacking positions was strongly felt amongst the team. Replacement right-back Branislav Ivanovic was competent defensively although the naturally inclined centre-back struggled to penetrate the right hand side effectively. Worryingly for Blues left-back Cole, who – after an injection – surpassed the pain barrier in Sunday’s game and is expected to face a lengthy spell in the medical room with a depressed fracture of the tibia, signalling a probable recall for Paulo Ferreira.
An atypical off day for Didier Drogba caused Chelsea particular attacking problems in conjunction with lacking influence from midfielder Deco. Reluctant to neither introduce a Plan B nor make a more positively driven substitution until the 66th minute, Chelsea were struggling to find inroads. A United makeshift back four consisting of fringe players Jonny Evans, John O’Shea and Wes Brown were never pushed to their limits, defending comfortably throughout with Nemanja Vidic lacking in match fitness and Rio Ferdinand also ruled out through injury. Nicolas Anelka was forced to come deep or drift wide in order to collect and carry the ball forward, and in doing so balls into the box often caught Chelsea short of numbers up top. A poor attacking display may have helped compile a case for the Chelsea manager to hunt in the transfer market with the African Cup of Nations looming on the horizon and with the transfer ban suspended until after January, Ancelotti may look to acquire a striker in order to replace Drogba. Nonetheless, the fixture list during the Cup of Nations period may suggest the squad should cope.
Ancelotti’s men found themselves on the back foot for large periods of the game with Rooney providing an assured lone role performance up front. Despite a relatively open and at times flowing affair, neither goalkeeper was considerably tested – Petr Cech made a few saves although all with relative ease. With Cristiano Ronaldo omitted from the season’s squad after his notorious transfer across water to Real Madrid, United were missing a spark. With Rooney the only recognisable and proven match winner, the Red Devils options were sort of finesse and the stored ability of individuals to create the spectacular. Unfortunately for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men neither Valencia nor Gabriel Obertan were able to fill the role.
Chelsea’s next notable challenge arises at the end of the month as the Blues face the Arsenal. A team of who were written off pre-season in their quest to bring the title back to north London, although the Gunners have strung an impressive string of results together of late. This coming weekend Chelsea’s array of international players will be called upon to represent their respective countries. A period of which Ancelotti would hope to keep the spine fit before the squad loses key players to the African Cup of Nations and the players prepare for a tough string of opposition during the Christmas interlude.