It wasn’t easy for either of the English giants, though it would be an exaggeration to say it was hard. Chelsea and Manchester United had their share of obstacles on the road against Champions League minnows, yet each earned a comfortable three points, vaulting them to the top of their UEFA Champions League groups.
Chelsea had the easier of things, showing early signs of dominating Danish champions FC Nordsjaelland. The underdogs had trouble matching the Blues’ early pressure, though by the middle of the first half, FCN were holding enough of the ball to set up in Chelsea’s end and ask a few questions. Had Chelsea not scored before halftime, this match could have been destined for a 0-0, the holders faced with a newly-confident underdog coming out of halftime. Instead, a well-executed goal eventually put in by Juan Mata gave the Blues a halftime lead.
In the second half, Nordsjaelland eventually broke. Chelsea got goals from David Luiz, Mata, and Ramires, leaving the final score at a deceptive 4-0.
The Danes were better than that, and Chelsea deserve credit for putting up a lopsided score against a team that was more than minnows. Ultimately, though, this is just holding serve. The Blues were expected to get these points, got them, and now move on to back-to-back games against Group E co-leading Shakhtar Donetsk. Chelsea’s well-equipped to handle Shakhtar, but as the Ukrainian champions showed today at Juventus, they’ll be formidable.
In Romania, Manchester United got an early scare, conceding an goal that sparked memories of last year’s Champions League disappointment. Take away the score, however, and the match was only slightly different than Chelsea’s. Both English giants were feeling the bite of an emboldened host. While Cluj looked more dangerous than Nordsjaelland, the challenge remained the same. Despite the deficit, United just needed to keep playing their game.
It quickly paid off. Robin van Persie headed United even before half time. In the second half, a beautiful pass from Wayne Rooney produced and unstoppable volley from van Persie. Combined with 65 percent possession, it was a well-earned win for United, 2-1.
That doesn’t mean the Red Devils won’t be in for some criticism, especially after giving Cluj a chance to draw even near the end. Nobody who criticized United before this match will be convinced. But Manchester United (and their fans) should be used to the same qualms they’ve continually heard in the post-Ronaldo era. They never look good. They never win by enough. Their midfield’s never that strong. Other teams control matches. Their defense is leaky. They need to settle on a goalkeeper. Overall, they’re very overrated.
All of which might be true, but season-after-season, the team continues to put up results. They posted 89 points in last year’s Premier League. Two years ago, they won the league and made the Champions League final. As long as the team keeps producing those kind of results, criticisms are better seen as ways to improve, not reasons United aren’t good. They are clearly a good team.
There is, however, the little detail of them missing group stage in last year’s Champions League. Today went a long way to correcting that problem. Three good points on the road give them six through two rounds. The points also make last year look less like a pattern and more like an aberration.