Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Manchester United was a rather drab affair until the final five minutes.
With the scored deadlocked at zero, Wayne Rooney possessed the ball on the edge of the Chelsea area when Ramires tackled him, prompting a Blues counter-attack. Rooney felt he had been fouled by the Brazilian but referee Howard Webb wasn’t interested.
Chelsea drove the length of the park, the ball eventually finding Juan Mata, who unleashed a shot that knicked off of Phil Jones’ leg before dinking off the post and into the goal.
Sir Alex Ferguson was not happy. After all, this was Old Trafford. And with the Premier League title already secured, Fergie, being Fergie, wanted even more. Specifically, he announced a few weeks ago that United’s goal was to break the record for points in the season.
Webb’s failure to whistle Ramirez’ alleged foul on Rooney turned Fergie a deeper hue of violet in the cheeks. But the referee’s decision to send off Rafael da Silva two minutes later prompted straight-up outrage from the Scottish gaffer.
The incident occurred near the corner flag. Luiz received the ball on the touch-line and da Silva immediately applied tight pressure. As Luiz shielded the ball his arms were raised and elbows appeared to fly freely, although they didn’t connect with da Silva’s head. The United defender stayed tight, nudging Luiz closer to the corner flag. Luiz then turned quickly and passed the ball away as da Silva swung his right leg, hacking down the Chelsea center-back. Luiz dropped to the floor, clutching his leg seemingly in pain before flashing a cheeky smile to the Chelsea faithful in the stand.
After the match Ferguson went berserk, claiming: “The ref has been bought by the fact Luiz is rolling about.”
The United manager continued: “He [Da Silva] retaliates but Luiz quite clearly elbows him twice, then rolls about like a diving swan and that convinces the referee. He was smiling. It’s bad. What kind of professional is that? He [Da Silva] was elbowed and he retaliated. That’s what always happens, the player who retaliates always gets the bigger penalty and it was clear that Luiz elbowed him twice.
“It was rash what he [Da Silva] did, he’s a young lad and should know better but retaliation never works. I wouldn’t say it was violent conduct. The referee hasn’t even seen it, I don’t think he could see it at all. But he has gone with the fact that Luiz has rolled about on the floor and I think that convinced him it was a red card.”
While it was predictable that Ferguson would focus at least some of his post-match comments on the da Silva sending, it had absolutely no bearing on the result of the game. United didn’t lose the match because da Silva, rightly or wrongly, was sent off.
United lost the match because Ferguson’s personnel decisions.
His first major decision was to play Anders Lindegaard over David de Gea. While Lindegaard is by no means a poor keeper, there’s a good chance that the gumby stretch of de Gea would have gotten to Mata’s goal-bound shot.
Ferguson also decided to play Anderson and Tom Cleverley in the midfield, leaving the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney on the bench. Rooney would eventually sub on for Anderson in the 69th minute but when the time came to take off Cleverley, Ferguson made a defensive change, bringing on Alexander Buttner in the Englishman’s place.
It’s not that Ferguson’s decision to play Lindegaard, Anderson and Cleverley was poor, but it definitely came at odds with his aforementioned goal of trying to secure the points record, especially when he dolled out his best Starting XI against Arsenal last weekend.
So what changed over the course of the last week?
Did Ferguson suddenly decide that achieving the aforementioned points record no longer mattered?
Or did he just want to stick it to Arsenal?
They’re questions that were neither asked nor addressed at the post-match conference. But the fact is, United didn’t lose to Chelsea because David Luiz rolled about “like a dying swan.” United lost because Fergie didn’t put out his best side against a very dangerous and highly motivated competitor.
(Video of the Luiz/da Silva incident begins at the 1 min, 51 sec mark)