Stuck in 2nd Gear at Stamford Bridge
Jose Mourinho values winning above all else and could care less about how he gets the right result.
That’s why Chelsea versus Manchester United, a promising fixture that pitted the soon-to-be English champs against a rejuvenated giant, turned out to be a pretty bland affair.
Mourinho has never cared much about style; he could care less about what football purists like Arsene Wenger think so long as his side earns three points.
Just as they have been all season, Chelsea were incredibly efficient and highly organized. The Special One’s plan was simple: mark Fellaini out of the match (which Kurt Zouma did a phenomenal job of), deny penetration, and hit United on the counter.
Only one goal was tallied when the final whistle blew, and it wasn’t scored by the team that controlled 71% of the possession.
Eden Hazard, whose club form has been terrific all year and fully merits his PFA Player of the Year nomination (and probably the award), popped up to score the eventual winner that came as a direct result of – you guessed it – a quick counter.
Did John Terry foul Radamel Falcao in the buildup? Probably, but sometimes you create your own luck. For all of the talk of Ander Herrera failing to track Hazard, the ultimate responsibility for the goal falls on Chris Smalling’s shoulders, who played the ball to Falcao in a bad area and then failed to close down Oscar, whose clever back heel sprung the Belgian winger.
Chelsea only manufactured one other real scoring opportunity all match, but they only needed to convert one.
Wayne Rooney thought Manchester United bossed the match, and while his analysis isn’t totally off-base, United never really found a way to pick Chelsea’s locks. Their offense simply lacked ideas and penetration after entering the final third, which culminated in a glaring lack of scoring opportunities for the 20-times English champions.
However, the match could have been very different had the United captain finished a gilt-edged chance in the opening minutes. Rooney’s effort may have had De Gea celebrating to the fans behind his goal, but it turned out to be an appalling effort for a player of his quality and proved to be the only real scoring opportunity United crafted for the duration of the 90.
Van Gaal has played a massive role in turning the club around this season but didn’t help matters much this match. After finding no alternatives to account for the absences of Michael Carrick and Daley Blind, he moved Rooney to the base of midfield and inserted Falcao up top. Falcao didn’t have a bad match, but he offered considerably less than Rooney would have. Additionally, Van Gaal’s decision to pull Juan Mata and Ashley Young in favor of Angel Di Maria and Adnan Januzaj when his side were in the ascendancy essentially took the wind out of United’s sails and ended the match as a contest.
The outcome of this match was never likely to effect the title race as Chelsea has essentially sewn that up, but it is perhaps a preview of things to come. Expect the gap between Chelsea and United to be much smaller next season.
Scary moment for David Silva
An out-of-form City side mustered a 2-0 win to pull within a point of Manchester United in 3rd place on Sunday, but it wasn’t the result that had everybody talking.
David Silva was the victim of a heavy blow from West Ham’s Cheikou Kouyate that left him writhing on the floor. After nearly 8 minutes of on-field treatment, the diminutive Spaniard was removed and taken to the hospital for testing.
Kouyate’s intentions remain unclear, even after viewing the replays. He doesn’t appear to swing his elbow in a conventional manner as he catches Silva while dribbling around him, but it’s difficult to understand why his elbow is stuck out at that awkward angle in the first place.
All things considered, a yellow card was probably the correct decision from the referee.
Kouyate took to Twitter after the match to express his sincerest apologies to Silva and deny any wrongdoing in the incident. Meanwhile, Silva was lucky to escape any fractures to his cheekbone and returned to training on Tuesday.
FA Cup Semifinals: Arsenal scrape by, Liverpool crash out
Three EPL matches were postponed this weekend as Arsenal, Liverpool, and Aston Villa participated in FA Cup semifinals.
After having not lifted a single piece of silverware in almost a decade, Arsenal is on the verge of winning their 2nd FA Cup in as many years after beating Reading 2-1.
Adam Federici’s goalkeeping howler gifted Alexis Sanchez his 2nd goal of the match in extra time and punched Arsenal’s ticket to the final.
The Gunners should probably consider themselves lucky after a nervy performance that saw a determined yet noticeably less-talented Reading side push them to their limits. Something about playing at Wembley always seems to send shivers down the spines of Wenger and his Arsenal players.
In the other semifinal, Aston Villa compounded Brendan Rodgers’ misery by upsetting Liverpool 2-1.
The Liverpool manager has been under fire all season long due to his team’s inconsistent play and defensive deficiencies, his ill-advised reinvestment of Suarez’s massive transfer fee, and his insistent tactical tinkering that often leaves his players confused and his team shapeless.
Indeed, it seemed as though Rodgers’ inability to push the right buttons was an underlying reason why Liverpool could’t overcome Aston Villa. Liverpool looked disorganized, and Villa was able to exploit that by hitting them on the counter. Jack Grealish, Fabian Delph, and Christian Benteke ran riot as a reinvigorated Aston Villa attack combined pace, swagger, and an end product.
Of course, the result also means Steven Gerrard’s final season at Anfield will end without a trophy. It also means that the FA Cup Final can go on without an overwhelmingly sappy narrative to overshadow it.
The Final between Aston Villa and Arsenal is sure to be a much more competitive affair than the 5-0 whooping Arsenal laid on its opponents at Emirates Stadium at the beginning of February, but it will take a spirited effort for Aston Villa to even have a chance.
Ol’ Tactics Tim Sherwood might have rediscovered Christian Benteke and transformed the Villans into a competitive EPL side again, but beating Arsenal in a cup final is a big ask.
Regardless, it should be a match worth tuning in for.