Offshore drilling, England: Manchester United 3, at Chelsea 2

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Man of the MatchJuan Mata provided another entrancing display, fulling validating a week’s worth of media hype anointing him the season’s best player. From an amazingly curled free kick goal in the 44th, to his cross in the buildup to Chelsea’s 53rd minute equalizer, to his constant stressing of Manchester United’s defense, Mata turned around what initially looked destined to be a lopsided affair.

Mata’s October contributions may have finally surpassed Eden Hazard’s early season results. Even if he’s still playing catchup, Chelsea has the Premier League’s two best performers of the (still young) 2012-13 season. 

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Two huge Sunday matches, two games overshadowed by the officiating. Whereas the Everton-Liverpool match saw one late call determine the result, Mark Clattenburg and crew provided two talking points for us content-hungry keyboard jockeys.
  • With Chelsea already down a man (Branislav Ivanovic uncontroversially shown red in the 63rd after running through a goal-bound Ashley Young), Fernando Torres was given a second yellow card (68′) for exaggerating a foul by Jonny Evans. At the time, the score was 2-2.
  • Two interpretations of the play – where Torres appears to be brought down after playing a ball behind Evans – with most people critical of Clattenburg.
    • The first: There was contact, it was a foul, so Torres shouldn’t have been carded. Clattenburg ARRRRGGGH!
    • The second: Foul or not, Torres was guilty of simulation, exaggerating the effect of the contact.
  • There’s no doubt Torres did just that. The problem: Evans wasn’t whistled, Torres was shown off, and onlookers were left to wonder what Clattenburg was thinking.
  • There is a huge, hypocritical tension here. There are constant complains about diving, and without a doubt, Torres dived to one degree or another. He exaggerated for the purpose of drawing a foul. Yet there’s general consternation over Clattenburg’s call, mostly because Evans made some contact with Torres. But if the problem with diving is the ethics behind it – the deceit, exaggeration, simulation of it all – then Torres should have been booked. No doubt, no debate under that standard. So which way do we want it? Because when decisions a binary and Clattenburg has to give a yes-no, it can’t go both ways.
  • Fine print: Don’t dive when you’re carrying a yellow card!
  • Three minutes after Torres left, Javier Hernández (having just been brought on for Tom Cleverley) put home a pass from Rafael from an offside position. The play stood, and Manchester United had their first win in 10 years at Stamford Bridge.
  • Before Blues started being dismissed, the match was split into two halves: Thirty minutes of United dominance followed by a half-hour of Chelsea control.
  • Manchester United played the best soccer of the Premier League season over the first third. Their passing was impeccable, their attacks were decisive and destroyed Chelsea’s defense, and we finally saw the devastating effect the speed of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young can have with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney through the middle. Who knows how potent this team can be when Shingi Kagawa returns?
  • The first goal was a perfect example. Van Perise and Young had switched, leaving “RVP” wide left. A turnover on Chelsea’s left allowed Young to burst between Chelsea defenders before Rooney hit him at the edge of the attacking third. Young laid it of for Rooney, pulled the defense with him as he ran toward goal, leaving an open area for van Persie. Rooney found him, RVP putting his shot off the post and David Luiz for a fourth minute goal.
  • The second goal, nine minutes later, was very similar. Rafael and Valencia blew through their right thanks to a poor read from Ashley Cole. The United winger was able to hit van Persie as his teammate dropped back from the defense, a right-footed shot into the middle of goal giving United a 2-0 lead.
  • As is there tendency, United let up, willing to let Chelsea control the game. Based on the first half hour, this should have been fine. United’s 4-1-4-1 defensive shape gave them a line across midfield that prevented Chelsea from connecting with their Eden Hazard-Oscar-Juan Mata level.
  • United look vulnerable on crosses, however, with Gary Cahill missing a chance off a corner. With the control Chelsea had over the game, it was a matter of time before the home side broke through.
  • Rooney helped him out. A misguided takedown of Hazard at the edge of the arc gave Mata too much of David de Gea’s goal. When the United keeper took a step left before Mata aimed to his right, he had no chance to stop a shot put into the side-netting. Minutes before halftime, Chelsea had got United’s lead in half.
  • Coming out the break, Chelsea made a crucial adjustment, having Oscar drop behind Manchester United’s midfielders to pick up the ball from Ramires and John Obi Mikel. As a result, Chelsea dominated the opening of the second half, exploiting United’s fullbacks, eventually creating a goal after crosses from Mata to Oscar to the goal-scorer, Ramires.
  • Ten minutes later, the match changed again. Ivanovic was off, and Chelsea was on their way to their first loss of the season.
  • For each team, it was a very mixed performance. Put the last 30, chaotic minutes aside and look at the first two-thirds. Over the first half hour, United looked like the best team in England. Through the middle third, Chelsea made the beginning seem a fluke. While Chelsea’s defense showed an alarming vulnerability, United again displayed a willingness to concede control of a match they should dominate.
  • Despite the loss, Chelsea maintains the lead in England. One point behind them: the Manchesters.