Monday, May 21, 2007

FA Cup Final: Chelsea 1 - 0 Manchester United

Well. That kind of sucked. And I'm not just saying that because my team lost. But the game seemed kind of anti-climactic, with both teams seeing it as nothing more than a consolation prize. And it was roughly one-tenth as exciting as last year's final between Liverpool and West Ham.

I've seen various comments blaming the pitch at Wembley for the dullness of the game, and it may have been a factor, but I think the real problem is that Sir Alex got his tactics wrong. United lined up in a 4-5-1 to match Chelsea's formation -- which means that they essentially played right into the opposition's hands. Trying to out-Chelsea Chelsea is hardly ever a good idea; Liverpool can do it, yes, but United aren't designed that way.

Plus, using Wayne Rooney as the lone striker nullified one of their biggest assets. Rooney's at his best not when he's playing with his back to goal but when he has some room to run at the defence and get up a head of steam. He made a few surging runs where you could see the potential, but generally he didn't have enough support from the rest of the team, and although he worked hard, he inevitably got frustrated.

As for the supposed Player of the Year...Ronaldo wasn't terrible, but he didn't have a great game either. Paulo Ferreira, who was covering him most of the time, did play reasonably well, but Ronaldo still ought to have been able to do more against him. I think this is what Ronaldo needs to add to his game next season: learning how to cope when the defenders are trying to stifle him, and to step up in the really big games. Although he's been absolutely brilliant in some matches, he hasn't been consistent enough when it counts. But I think he's a smart enough player -- and Sir Alex is a smart enough manager -- that he'll figure it out, just like this season he figured out how much more effective he could be if he stayed on his feet.

There weren't that many notable incidents in the game, but the big one, of course, was that play where Giggs forced the ball -- and Petr Cech -- into the net. And I hate to admit it, but I think the referee got it right. First things first, the ball was definitely over the line. But it was only over the line because of the way Giggs slid into Cech. I suppose then maybe it should've been a free kick for Chelsea, but it wasn't an intentional foul. Now, United are claiming they should have had a penalty, for Essien tackling Giggs from behind. But I've watched the replay a few times now, and I'm not sure there was enough contact to give a penalty. I do think it put Giggs off, though, just enough that he scuffed his shot -- if he'd connected cleanly, then it almost certainly would have been a goal.

I'd predicted before the game that it would probably go to penalties, and I was almost right. Drogba finally broke the stalemate for Chelsea five minutes from the end of extra time, playing a neat one-two with Lampard -- quite possibly the first useful thing Lampard had done in 120 minutes of football, if you exclude smashing a free kick into the wall and looking huffy -- and then clipping the ball over Van der Sar (who arguably could have done better in coming out to close him down). If anybody was going to score for Chelsea, you just knew it was going to be Drogba; he lifted them yet again here, just as he's done all year.

So. A disappointing way to end the season for United, but I still think I'd take the Premiership title over the two cups.

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