Rare Old Trafford victory propels sharper Chelsea into pole position
Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea were well-deserving winners as United looked jaded
United erred by starting the veteran pair of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes together
The game was marred by a number of controversial calls by referee Mike Dean
Four quick thoughts after Chelsea's well-deserved 2-1 win against Manchester United moved Carlo Ancelotti's men into prime position in the Premiership title race:
1. Wayne Rooney's absence magnified. Sir Alex Ferguson had spent most of the pregame banter talking about how United could cope without their injured talisman. However, on this evidence, that clearly wasn't the case. It wasn't just Rooney's penetrative ability and ever-present goal-scoring threat that United missed, it was his never-say-die attitude and whirling dervish approach -- traits that were missing from United's strangely flat, insipid performance. It's on days like this when Ferguson's decision not to sign Carlos Tevez, a player who replicates Rooney's endless energy, looms even larger as a mistake.
2. Champions League hangover? One could argue that United's midweek efforts against Bayern had taken its toll. From the onset, Chelsea was clearly fresher with sharp, crisp passing combinations. In comparison, United looked tired and jaded -- no doubt also partially due to Ferguson's choice to start both Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in the same midfield. Both veterans were non-factors as the game completely bypassed them. Either Nani, who provided a creative spark when he came on, or Michael Carrick should have started in their stead. The question is whether Ferguson chose Scholes and Giggs because he actually preferred their experience for the Chelsea clash, or with a view in mind to rest Carrick and Nani for the second leg against Bayern on Wednesday.
3. Opposite sides of the spectrum. Speaking of aging vets, United right back and long-time stalwart Gary Neville appears to be past his sell-by-date by about four years. As for Chelsea, Florent Malouda continues to flourish on the left side. Since the tail end of last season and through most of this, the previously floundering Malouda has been on a certified tear and once again resembles the player that formed such an influential part of the swashbuckling Lyon attack between 2003-07.
4. More terrible officiating. On the whole, the general standard of refereeing in the Premiership this season has been absolutely dire (take a bow, Phil Dowd and Lee Mason). In fact it's gotten so bad, it's almost enough to make one miss the days of Rob Styles (OK, maybe not). Saturday's game was yet more evidence of numerous blown calls in the same game. Referee Mike Dean and his linemen denied two clear penalty shouts, and allowed two controversial goals to stand. The first, by Chelsea's Didier Drogba, came after the Ivory Coast striker had clearly wandered into a offside position before scoring. It's absolutely mind-blowing that that the linesman failed to see that. The second goal, bundled in by United's Federico Macheda, appeared legal, but also hinted at a possible use of the arm. The sport is crying out for instant replay or extra referees on the field. Granted, in the case of Macheda's goal, replay analysis might still be inconclusive, but there's no doubt that incidents as obvious as Drogba's offside would be rectified.