Monday, November 27, 2006


Missed Chances Cost Manchester United a 6 point lead Over Chelsea

Old Trafford - After the incessant hype, not to mention copious amounts of bluff and bluster, Jose Mourinho and his resilient Chelsea side were left to reflect on a point well earned after Ricardo Carvalho’s powerful second half header helped secure the west London outfit a vital 1-1 draw in their eagerly anticipated Premiership showdown with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Whilst the Portuguese defender’s excellent finish may not have derailed United’s challenge - they do, after all, still lead their southern rivals by three points - it has undoubtedly left somewhat of a dent in the armour of Sir Alex Ferguson’s charges. As psychological blows go, this was something special.

“United have lost a big, big chance to open up a six point lead,” beamed a clearly delighted Mourinho.

“We're not top like we want to be but three points is just one weekend. It's a better result for us than them.

“If I was in their place I would be very disappointed. We showed our power in the second half and that we are not sleeping.” Never a truer word spoken.

With an expectant world looking on, a match that many thought would live long in the memory, frequently - despite the odd flash of genius - failed to deliver.

The opening, terrifically bright exchanges proved to be all too brief glimpses of what could have been. Wayne Rooney, no doubt buoyed by the signing of a two year extension to his contract, flashed a header over Carlo Cudicini’s bar and then proceeded to clatter into the excellent Claude Makelele. United and their very own boy wonder were clearly up for the fight.

When Cristiano Ronaldo’s sweetly struck free-kick forced Cudicini into an excellent save after 18 minutes, the capacity audience packed into the Theatre of Dreams sensed that an opening goal was in the offing. Just before the half hour mark Louis Saha duly broke the deadlock.

Following a flowing move that involved Ryan Giggs and Rooney, the Frenchman, given too much time and space by a back-pedalling Chelsea defence, beat Cudicini with an accurate low drive to make amends for his personal UEFA Champions League nightmare at Celtic where he fluffed an easy chance and missed a last gasp penalty.

To their eternal credit, the visitors steadfastly refused to buckle as first Geremi tested Edwin van der Sar’s reflexes and then Lampard fizzed an effort narrowly wide. Not that we should be surprised by Chelsea’s backbone, this is, after all the side that has swept all before them for the past two seasons. More was to come from them after the break.

If the first half had belonged to United, the second period was well and truly dominated by Chelsea who, in a move that signalled their attacking intentions, boldly replaced Geremi with the flying Arjen Robben at half-time.

In an instant, Andriy Shevchenko drilled a shot over, before Lampard’s drive and Didier Drogba’s neat flick from a Michael Ballack cross threatened, once again, to restore parity. The almost inevitable equaliser came after 69 minutes.

Lampard’s pinpoint corner - won courtesy of Essien’s persistence down the right flank - was met by Carvalho. Van der Sar, hampered by Saha on the line, stood little chance as the Portugal international’s header thundered in off the underside of the bar.

“It was a big opportunity for us but we didn't get the breaks," admitted Ferguson as the dust settled on two points lost rather than one gained.

“I think Edwin Van der Sar had Carvalho's header covered but these things happen in football. We knew they were going to change and for a little spell we started to sit off them a bit. They didn't make any chances but we should have been a bit more positive,” added the Scot.

Even though they still trail, you can’t help but feel that it’s advantage Chelsea in the title race, something that, on the latest evidence at least, may well be the case come next May.

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