Much to admire
can't help but enjoy Manchester United's thrilling 3-1 defeat of Chelsea at Old Trafford, in what was a contest which may go down as one of the most absorbing in Premier League history.
Last Updated: September 19, 2011 2:46pm
Whether it be comedy, tragedy or farce that dripped from his quill a Shakespearean play was always infused with a great sense of drama and on Sunday what played out at Old Trafford in Manchester United's defeat of Chelsea was worthy of bearing the Bard of Avon's signature.
Andre Villas-Boas claimed that miss by Fernando Torres was much ado about nothing in imploring the media to not over react in their analysis but even the player himself would probably concede this was a comedy of errors.
"You are all very nice in here with me and tomorrow you take a different stance," said the Portuguese with a resignation matched perhaps only by Ronnie Rosenthal, who will have woken this morning with an impending sense of dread as his Villa Park show reel is retrieved from dusty TV archives.
Villas-Boas was right to be afraid. A crestfallen Torres adorns every back page with the pained expression that has characterised his time at Chelsea. And yet, for all the negative press he will receive for his latest faux pas in blue, Torres should feel content if not a little frustrated with his performance. Forget the goal, just the second in 24 appearances, here was a player finally awoken from his slumber. Dead eyes and leaden legs are all that the Chelsea faithful have witnessed to date from their £50million man but at least on Sunday there was a little fire in his belly.
To say Torres is back after a well taken goal, a couple of decent efforts and a miss that will please the Stretford End as much as any Rooney rocket this season is premature, but once the laughter subsides Chelsea should have a better player for what is an admittedly chastising experience. The little boy lost look was starting to look pathetic on a grown man and whether Villas-Boas has put an arm round his shoulder or a rocket up his backside is largely immaterial. Slowly, slowly catchy monkey it appears to be working.
A game of such breathtaking chaos and unabashed entertainment should not forever labour under the dull glow of pathos though, as this was a contest to be enjoyed not critiqued to the point of tedium.
Chelsea landed in Manchester unusually unfeted after a start to the season under their new manager that has been eclipsed by the northern city's now twin powerhouses. Upon Villas-Boas' own arrival in England replete with sharp suits, skinny ties, good looks and a history intertwined with his former mentor comparisons with Jose Mourinho were inevitable but to date they have appeared more lazy than informed.
The tactics he employed on Sunday could not have been more at odds with the cautious pragmatism of his predecessors as he elected to go toe-to-toe in Fergie's own back yard. There was a sense the quiet one was using his first duel with Sir Alex to demonstrate neither he nor his team were cowed by United's immaculate start to the new campaign.
In electing to go with such an attacking line-up he has faced as many accusations of being naive as he has commendations for his bravery and the fact he had three bullets in his back before he'd even clocked his own trigger suggests this was a duel better best avoided. They fight as rough in Govan as they do in Manchester and this was a lesson he will take with him back to the capital. Villas-Boas has gone from nought to ubiquity in the space of 12 months and the Premier League is an unforgiving environment in which to continue one's education.
There was much to admire about Chelsea's imagination and drive when pressing forward but withstanding legitimate calls for a linesman's flag for United's first two goals, it does not take Romeo to surmise that lining up without any kind of shield to protect an increasingly exposed back four was suicidal.
This was a United side in the process of establishing their best start to a season in 26 years and while Sir Alex was cranky about his team's profligacy in possession, the glint in his eye betrayed the pleasure he is taking in overseeing the youthful reinvention of last term's title-winning outfit that was afforded more polite applause than rapturous reception on claiming silverware.
Luck of course plays its part in any purple patch but there was much to admire about the champions' performance. Pace and energy are the current buzz words circumnavigating the club and the youthful enthusiasm demonstrated by Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at the back proved infectious in spreading itself throughout the team.
Although at times his positional play was brought into question by Torres' clever movement, Jones' buccaneering gallops upfield are at present as edifying a sight in English football as any other. His demolition job on Bolton was one thing but the manner in which he smashed through Chelsea's backline for United's third and deciding goal with all the subtlety of a bowling ball to skittle was something else entirely.
Already being talked of as a future England captain Jones' meteoric rise should have current incumbent John Terry worried. Going off their respective performances on Sunday it is the man in red who should start at Euro 2012 when and if England seal qualification.
Smalling too is pressing strongly for regular inclusion at senior international level and while it is still early days neither Ferguson nor the club's supporters still endure sleepless nights while Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic occupy the treatment room. And this has always been Ferguson's genius.
After his side's crushing defeat to Barcelona at Wembley at the tail end of last season the Scot was charged as being churlish in his concession that while the Catalans are currently at the peak of their cycle they may struggle to replace Xaxi, Inestia, Messi et al. It's not churlish but realistic and by forever being one step ahead of his own club's cycle he's been able to build a number of great sides.
While Arsenal remain a perpetual work in progress, or more pertinently one in decline at present, United are starting a fresh cycle with young players who will be taken out of the firing line, invariably at the right time, when the need is for a Giggs, Carrick or Park over a Cleverley, Smalling or Young.
While Wayne Rooney frustrated those who waged a few quid on him bagging a third successive hat-trick at 33-1 with a wayward penalty that has been adjudged a decent effort in comparison with Torres' attempt and a scuffed effort against the post, only a true curmudgeon could not enjoy the football he's playing at present. His range of passing and vision in crowded areas of the field is a joy to behold and in Ashley Young's predilection to hug the left flank he has a constant out-ball which he ruthlessly used to Jose Bosingwa's discomfort all afternoon.
On the other flank Nani is continuing the form that saw him crowned United's player of the year last season. His 100th appearance in a United shirt was one of his best and for a man who in the summer said his personal aim was to become the best player in the world, the stats at this stage of his career in comparison with Cristiano Ronaldo are cause for cautious encouragement. In his first 100 appearances for United the Real Madrid man scored the same number of goals as Nani on 21 but had just 12 assists to his fellow Portuguese's 33. It's worth remembering Ronaldo was 20 and petulant when he clocked up his appearances compared to Nani who turns 25 in November, but even the staunchest naysayers would have to concede the missile that left his boot on Sunday to flash past Petr Cech was something special.
Chelsea more than played their part in a contest that will live long in the memory but at the final whistle it was the Theatre of Dreams regulars who rose as one to salute the fifth of a 38-act play that is threatening to be one of the finer masterpieces in Sir Alex's canon to date.