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Man United vs. Chelsea (Battle of who could break lines.)
This meeting of Man united vs. Chelsea resembled ancient 1700’s warfare. Back in the 1700’s warring nations would form lines and then try to break through the other countries lines with bullets. Today the warring clubs didn’t have bullets; it would be too easy if they did.

First half-
Formations and tactics-

It is rare to see 2 teams use a 4-4-2 in modern football. It is rarer still to see it at the highest level. There were 2 major differences in both 4-4-2s; one was the fact that Chelsea had more power and drive in the midfield with (Raimeres, Lampard, Essien), while Manchester united had better passers who were content to stay deeper and play the patient passing game.(Scholes and Carrick). The second was that the Manchester United attack was more self sufficient. Rooney has the ability to drop off into the space and create chances for his strike partner; where Torres and Anelka had to rely on service from deep. Aside from those minuet differences the teams were very similar. Each team had one flank packed with attacking quality while the other was defensively secured. Both team’s attacking flank was negated by the others defensive flank. Another similarity between the 2 teams was the fact that they kept their midfield and defensive lines narrow, close together, and deep in an attempt to reduce the vital space in between defense and midfield that is found in 4-4-2s. This created a fairly dull first half.
Teams different approach to breaking lines-

Man United’s way-
In tactics attacking football is about creating space and exploiting it but when the space is created for you just have to find a way to exploit it. Manchester united took a more “modern” approach to try to exploit the space. They played a small mobile attack consisting of Nani, Rooney, Hernandez, and evra providing the overlap on the left to try to create space. Ferguson also tried using Rooney in a more false 9 role; he was always dropping deep in between o around the Chelsea defense and midfield. Not surprisingly where he scored the goal. Although Rooney scored he had a minimal impact the rest of the first half. I Applaud Ferguson for being progressive with his tactics, but he used the false 9 wrong in this match. Rooney had Hernandez to his top right but no one else ahead of him. The false 9 is like they trequatistas of old just more mobile and advanced in position. They both need multiple passing options ahead of them to really be effective. Wayne Rooney really only had one (Hernandez). For Rooney to be more effective he would have needed at least another attacking option to be consistently ahead of him. (See Barcelona Messi drops of and Villa and Pedro run into any space created by his movement)The main reason though for Rooney’s ineffectiveness in the first half was that Chelsea simple reduced the space he could work in. With their Narrow, deep, and tight line Chelsea denied Manchester united space in between the lines, and behind the line which basically negated the intended effects of the false 9.(Role of false 9 next paragraph) He often floated in front of Chelsea’s midfield and defensive line since the space in between was constricted and no surprise he scored the goal there. Man united failed to break Chelsea’s lines; the false 9 system just was never going to be effective against Chelsea’s set up.

(The M.O. of the false 9 is to get in the space in between the midfield and defense, pull the oppositions defense out, create space for runners, than finally thread a through ball into the space he created for the runner)

Chelsea way-
While Man united took the progressive new school approach, Chelsea took the old school direct approach of breaking into the lines. They had a midfield jam packed with players ready and able to make runs from deep. They had Ramirez, Essien, Lampard, and Malouda who likes to cut inside, all in their midfield. If there was ever a better midfield selected to penetrate the space in between the lines and support their two prima puntas (torres and anelka ) please let me know. There approach failed in the first half because united had the lines close together and their central midfielders drop in front of the united defense to become screens basically blocking runs from deep. On the occasions such as the 4th minute Malouda shot, and 44th minute Essien run, where the Chelsea midfield was able to run at a bare Manchester united back 4 they looked dangerous.

Chelsea shut down-
After years playing against Chelsea Ferguson finally figured out how to approach Chelsea. He knew several things about Chelsea going into this match; one they like to play down the middle, two they struggle to generate width especially if there fullbacks are shutdown, three, they only had the tools to create width down the left side. They have Ashley Cole and Zhirkov on the left and they only have boswinga on the right, but it would be unlikely for Boswinga to start. Ancelotti wouldn’t be stupid enough to play 2 attacking fbs and leave Terry and Luiz to deal with the counter attacking threat of Rooney and Berbatov or Javier Hernandez. Essentially as long as Fletcher could negate Cole Chelsea would lack width. From there their narrow, tight, and deep United defense could handle the runs from Chelsea’s dynamic central midfield.(See figure 2 ) Finally he knew the only real aerial threat Chelsea had was Drogba, and as long as he didn’t play Man United could handle Chelsea’s Aerial presence. They have Vidic who is a monster in the air, Smallings who’s 6’4, O’ Shea who is 6’2, and not to forget Van der sar who’s good in the air. Basically even if Fletcher couldn’t contain Cole or Chelsea found any width they wouldn’t be able to exploit it. Ferguson had Chelsea figured out in the first half.

Second Half-

The game turns –

With the inception of the second half both teams instituted a higher defensive line along with pressing higher up the pitch. This caused the space in between both teams midfield and defense to increase and the game would be decided by the team who could best exploit the new found space.
Both teams continue with same system one team benefits from it-
That team would be Chelsea. Man United’s false 9 system was never going to be a major threat, because it was set up wrong. The second half saw Rooney influence grow which was natural considering he was given more space but it never reached its maximum potential. Ferguson didn’t provide Rooney passing options that would be consistently ahead of him. Thus his False 9 Role didn’t really pay off and instead Rooney had to take most of the attacking responsibility.
(See second half shots 3/5 united shots came from Rooney, the false 9 should be a the main creator not taker of chances http://soccernet.espn.go.com/gamecast?id=293110&cc=5901)

Manchester United failed to exploit the space in between the lines but Chelsea did. The quicker tempo of the second half meant that quick burst into the space in between the lines was always going to be a more effective option than the slower build up play of the false 9 system. Early in the second half Chelsea was over powering Manchester United’s fragile central midfield of Carrick and Scholes every way possible. Chelsea’s powerful midfield were just generally quicker winning tussle for the ball. Finally Chelsea’s midfield was more successful at penetrating the line and it was a run from lampard that started the move that would earn Chelsea a penalty.

Chelsea made the better substitutions-
Chelsea found it difficult to service their two prima puntas( Anelka and Torres) in the first half. The biggest piece of evidence for this would be the fact that Anelka and Torres combined had two shots in the first half. This was due to the fact that Manchester United defended deep and kept the lines between midfield and defense tight. With the introduction of Drogba Chelsea became less reliant on runs from the midfield as Drogba drop deeper to provide a link between midfield and attack. Within 5 minutes of coming on Drogba and Torres showed better interplay than Anelka and Torres did for arguably the whole game. In the 66th minute Drogba dropped deeper and play a pass into space for Torres who was on Manchester United’s defensive line.
One of the best tactical moves of the match was the introduction of Yury Zhrikov. He not only freed up Ashley Cole he also freed up Chelsea. With Zhiirkov overlapped on the left in the 80th minute we got a glimpse at the true attacking abilities of Cole. Normally in a situation seen bellow Cole in yellow would run down the flank but instead since Zhirkov (Red) moved down the flank Cole was given freedom to run inside and play a through ball. Not only did the introduction of Zhrikov free Cole of his responsibilities to provide width it allowed Chelsea to be more direct because they don’t have to wait on fb to provide the width necessary for attack.

United make like for like substitutions-

There is nothing more frustrating and ineffective than trying to fix a problem by doing the same exact things. An attacking fb for another attacking fb(Fabio on for evra) and an old passer for another old passer(giggs on for Scholes). The only substitution made that wasn’t a like for like was Berbatov for Hernandez but even that didn’t have an effect on the game because it never solved the main problem with United’s attack.

Another man’s pain can be another man’s pleasure. This metaphor could be directly applied to Chelsea in this game. They reaped the benefits of Manchester United’s ineffective attack
(The stats say it all Manu had half the # of shots of Chelsea http://soccernet.espn.go.com/gamecast?id=293110&cc=5901 )
and they exploited the new found space between the lines very well. They got men into that space the space and over powered a fragile Manchester united a midfield that was more suited for a low tempo passing European game than a high intensity and direct EPL match.