Well - we went to penalties again.
Today's match was really more intense than I'd thought it might be - shame on me - but despite the United loss I can't at all be ashamed of their performance. ( I am also proclaiming it a joint victory since Chelski managed to win something for a change and United managed to not have MO7 get injured and be out for the season like some naysayers predicted. But I digress ... )
1st Half -
I think I did a decent job of predicting the starting 11. I left out Park and Berba for Valencia and Owen but I wasn't surprised to see Nani on the pitch. I've said all summer that if he wasn't sent out of Old Trafford he'd really have to prove his worth this season and would definitely be given the chance to do it. He had a brilliant goal about 9' into the half - a shot that Petr Cech definitely should have been able to stop. ( I've missed seeing his victory flips! Well done. )
Nani also had a harmless corner around 26' that Cech caught in the air and a corner played short that failed to garner much steam. He had a nice run on goal around 36' but the angle was too tight for a solid shot and it seemed to go into the netting. ( With CR7 gone is this Nani's chance to shine? CR7 had a slow start at United and Nani definitely has. Forget the press for Valencia for a minute and think maybe Nani is the answer to the Ronnie Problem at United. Maybe we just needed to let Nani be Nani - without Ronnie! But its far too early to have any real thoughts like that. Again - I digress. )
Nani worked quite well in the first half with Patrice Evra along the side.
Rooney looked good. Chelsea weren't able to predict where he would show up. Its the kind of performance from him I expected for today.
Chelski's "Super Frank" was really ineffective in the first half. Fletch managed to shut him down pretty well. Fletch had a good match as well. I think he was undervalued for years and in the past one or two seasons has really started to get the notice he deserves. He simply goes in and does his job - and does a damn good job at it.
Park had a nice little run at 25'.
Free kick from Lampard at 27' that went right into the wall.
Maluda missed an opportunity at the United goal - he just took the shot on the wrong side of his foot. It was a good effort.
Foster had two slip ups around the half hour mark in terms of waiting too long to clear the ball. It was pure nerves and was really sloppy.
Ashley Cole's booing from English fans continued.
Anelka narrowly shot wide around 40' after getting past Fletch. It was lucky that he missed because Foster wouldn't have stopped it.
2nd Half -
Whatever Ancelotti said to Chelski during halftime certainly worked because they dominated the half.
Cole put a stop to Rooney at 50' after a nice pass from Park - almost to immediately head a ball back to Cech at 51' to stop an attack from Berba. Cech looked incensed at Cole for sending it back to him like that - although I think Cole made the right defensive call. ( Cech was angry and squabbling with his teammates for most of the match. )
About 6 minutes in came the equalizer from Carvalho in the 52'. Foster had no shot of stopping it. It was a mild disaster in the box. I highly doubt it would have happened with Vidic and VDS on the pitch but - what can you do. It visibly shook Foster - I almost wished to see Kuszczak in for him after that. I knew he'd be too consumed by nerves to be able to do much of anything for the rest of the match, let alone survive PKs. I was proved wrong at 56' though - he brilliantly saved a cannon of a shot on goal.
Around 58' I started anxiously awaiting subs. ( I - like many - believe the natural state of the football fan is pure panic. )
Of course Nani took a bad fall around 60' after a fair tackle. He seemed to have a shoulder problem and I really hope its not too bad. I'd hate to see him out for a month because of it after his stellar performance today. He was replaced by Valencia. Valencia did alright but didn't have much opportunity to really make an impression on me.
Shortly after the United sub we saw Ballack in for Mikel.
United had completely lost their pace and I was happy to see Owen warming up at 65'. United needed to establish a rhythm to their game quickly.
And then came the chaos. Lampard scored in the 71' but after Evra had been fouled and was staying down. The ref had stopped play for Ballack a few minutes early after he went down - no foul committed - and really should have stopped play. I was livid. I saw red. I screamed. I felt it was a ridiculous double standard. Should United have continued play since there was no whistle? Yes. Should Foster have made the save? Yes. But the ref should have stopped play. It was a bad call but there was nothing to be done. Another chapter in Evra's book of bad history with Chelsea.
Luckily for United - Wayne Rooney was on the pitch. He equalized in stoppage time with a wonderful, clear shot on goal after a pass from Giggsy, who was subbed in after the Lampard goal along with Owen, Scholes, F. da Silva. It was a great goal from him and a good way to unofficially start the season.
As happy as I was that we had equalized - United had shown they wouldn't be kept down - I realized that there was no way to avoid PKs and that they would probably serve to further break the confidence of Ben Foster. He'd had an atrocious match and I'd almost - perhaps more than almost - wished Ferige had used Kuszczak. It only takes a few well placed matches for a player to catch a case of the Yips.
Chelsea made four in a row from Lampard, Ballack, Drogba and Kalou. It wasn't surprising given Foster's performance and I expected it. Giggsy and Evra both had weak, straight shots on goal that were easily stopped. Carrick got his through but it didn't have a chance of changing the tides.
So - as I said yesterday - this match really doesn't mean anything in the long run of things. I don't see Chelsea winning the league. Neither team had a terrible performance and each clearly dominated a half. United showed that they can operate against an English club without CR7 - and Carlos Tevez. Am I worried? Not really.
This was no blow out. We saw some new things from old faces ( Nani ) and great performances from solid players ( Rooney and Fletch ). We saw a squad with an attack based on teamwork. We didn't win but I wouldn't call it a real loss by any means.
We'll see what happens with the season opener.