Chelsea find the finishing touch against United

By Nick Howson

Photo: Paul Blank

John Terry’s 75th minute header at Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening proved that even in the pressure-filled cauldron of the Premier League, grasping football’s basics can be the biggest weapon of all.

It was a lesson that Manchester United ultimately failed to understand, as league leaders Chelsea came away with all three points in a tight game at Stamford Bridge.

The visitors dictated play for long periods but failed to turn a dominance of possession into clear-cut chances as Chelsea pounced on United’s lack of creativity and concentration.

The Champions will surely be questioning the judgement of the officials for Chelsea’s winning goal. A free kick was given for a foul by Darren Fletcher in which he seemed convinced that he’d won the ball and then the resulting set piece saw Didier Drogba waft at the ball while in an offside position.

In truth both queries don’t diminish the fact that Terry — arguably the Blues’ finest header of a ball — was left unmarked from the free kick and had the simple task of guiding the ball into the far corner of the net.

It would seem that it is now becoming a common theme of United’s form on the road that they can’t raise their game sufficiently against their ‘top four’ rivals.

Yes, they endured this type of form while still claiming a third successive League title last season, but given the current form of both Arsenal and leaders Chelsea, United might need to buck up their ideas.

Carlo Ancelotti will be delighted that in two home games against their title rivals, his side have claimed maximum points while rarely breaking a sweat.

It is difficult to see much of a weakness in a Chelsea side that could rely on Terry to produce the goods as their attacking gems were marked out of the game.

Drogba and Nicolas Anelka were particularly frustrated as a makeshift United back four got the better of Chelsea’s attacking threat.

Their squad size also makes for impressive reading, with the likes of Florent Malouda, Yuri Zhirkov and John Obi Mikel not even called upon on Sunday.

It is questionable whether the temporary suspension of the club’s transfer ban will make a host of difference to their title chances. It will be more down to the size of lead they can take into the African Cup of Nations, where they’ll lose four of their stars.

Maybe Ancelotti had thought ahead and demanded a fast start ahead of next year’s African competition so that in the close season run-in, the club would still be in the running for the title. If so, it is a move that already looks shrewd.

Their north London rivals are also setting the league alight with their impressive performances, but unlike in previous years, Arsenal seem to have a final product to their ultra precise passing game, and the spread of goals is something to feared by both United and today’s victors from the King’s Road.

Of course Liverpool should not be discounted, especially at this early stage of the season, but it seems like they look devoid of ideas and drive without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres — the return to fitness of the duo appears to be crucial to their chances.

As for Chelsea they just continue to turn up when it matters, but we’re yet to see how their Italian manager can cope over the course of a whole season. Nothing is won in November.

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