After two thrilling matches in four days between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, despite all of the drama and controversy, it will be Chelsea who are the happier of the two sides.
Even after their first EPL loss, they remain top of the league, leading both Manchester clubs by a single point, and are still in the running for four titles, domestic and European.
The Blues showed great fighting spirit to come from behind in both games, overturning a two-goal deficit in the first whilst not letting United get that far ahead in the Capital One Cup tie. They came back from 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 down to force extra time, eventually winning 5-4 and advancing to a quarter final tie with Leeds United.
They started the cup tie poorly and gifted a goal to Manchester United. I hold my hands up and admit that I underestimated the impact of John Terry’s absence at centre back in my report of the Tottenham game.
The past two matches against Manchester United have highlighted how important his presence is in the side. From organising the back four, and the holding and box to box midfielders, to commanding the area in front of the box, closing down attackers and making tackles, his leadership was very much missed.
It was a lack of communication and understanding in the key defensive areas of the pitch that caused Chelsea to concede seven goals across two games, and it’s thanks to the brilliance of their attackers that these games weren’t a total disaster. I would be surprised to see Chelsea leaking quite so many goals when Terry returns from his suspension.
The Blues have an extremely congested fixture list including a trip to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup in December.
Roberto Di Matteo made six changes to his starting 11 from the league game, with squad members Oriel Romeu, Lucas Piazon, Cesar Azpilicueta, Ryan Bertrand, Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge brought in to deputise for the more senior squad members.
Azpilicueta defended well but was inconsistent going forward down the left, Ryan Bertrand looked very good once he fired up and Victor Moses won the first penalty and put in a lot of effort, even if it was a tad misguided at times.
Sturridge picked a really bad game to find his benevolent passing side. He played more like Fernando Torres, getting involved in the build up to attacks rather than waiting to finish the final pass, and when it did come to him to shoot he squandered the majority of his chances.
In fairness, the starting attackers weren’t as fluid as they have been in recent games and once Oscar and Eden Hazard were added to the game in the second half, replacing Romeu and Piazon respectively, Chelsea looked far more threatening.
Manchester United also have a busy fixture list, although minus the FIFA Club World Cup, and Sir Alex Ferguson made 10 changes to his starting line up for the Capital One Cup game. It was these young players who made crucial errors, Buttner conceding the first penalty, and Wootton conceding the second and gifting Sturridge the fourth goal
Michael Keane rode his luck after a handball in the area was missed by the referee, and he received only a yellow card for a foul on Sturridge that looked very similar to the foul by Branislav Ivanovic on Ashley Young in the previous game, which saw the Chelsea man sent off.
Ultimately it was the strength of the benches that won these games. In the league fixture Di Matteo was limited in his options for substitutes by the two red cards and Sir Alex was able to introduce Javier Hernandez to take advantage of the gaps left by the dismissed players.
However, in the cup tie, the Chelsea manager had the options of Eden Hazard and Oscar to join Juan Mata and ramp up the attacking threat, whereas his United counterpart only introduced Federico Macheda in extra time to support a tiring Hernandez.
Both matches were extremely entertaining for spectators and they provided plenty of talking points. One win apiece is a fair result and showcases the Premier League as the most competitive and dramatic in the world.
It’s a shame there was a downside to the drama with the performance of the officials being one of the major talking points, but that should not be allowed to take too much away from the fact that both matches provided exciting end to end football of the highest calibre, with brilliant attacking breaks, beautiful passing moves, and goals galore.
Chelsea edge the advantage but it’s a long season and as these games show, anything can happen in football.