An early kick off meant a subdued atmosphere from United fans compared to the last time were at this cauldron of snides last October. That night, the pathetic home support only woke up after Daniel Sturridge put them in the lead seven minutes into extra time, apart from that, United fans took the piss out of their wooden counterparts. Yesterday at Stamford Bridge, it was more of the same. Stood in the lower tier of Shed end of Chelsea’s modern but soulless stadium, we couldn’t hear a whisper out of Chelsea fans until Demba Ba’s admittedly brilliant goal, three minutes into the second half, put them into the lead. United had controlled the game for most of the first half without looking like scoring. Only once in that period was Petr Cech tested, when a bizzare swirling shot from Javier Hernández four minutes before half time produced a great save from the Czech goalkeeper. For all United’s possesion, it was Chelsea who had the first shot on target when Demba Ba tried catching David De Gea out on his near post after half an hour. It put me in mind of the rope-a-dope tactics Muhammad Ali deployed in his 1974 fight against George Foreman in Kinshasa.
Yesterday was April the 1st and the first joke of the day I heard was that Wayne Rooney hadn’t made the squad due to a previously undisclosed groin injury and that Nani was starting. My amusement turned to horror when I realised it wasn’t a joke. Stamford Bridge is the scene of Nani ruining a brilliant nights work by a young United side last Halloween when he needlessly gave the ball away deep into injury time to start a Chelsea move which lead to them getting a penalty and equaliser from Eden Hazard in a League Cup match. That faux pas from Nani earned him an extremely rare public rebuke from Sir Alex Ferguson. He was nowhere near as culpable today due to his involvement in the game being limited to him hitting a free kick low in the Chelsea wall and yet again failing to beat the first man from a corner. It should really be a pre-requisite that every professional footballer be able to cross a ball and take a decent throw-in. Any weakness in them areas can only really be tolerated if the footballer is special (I.E, somebody like Cantona or Scholes). That Nani can’t cross the ball or take a corner is a familiar problem to reds, what makes it worse is that he doesn’t have any special skill to compensate for them weakneses. The fact that Nani, a man whose union card says he’s a winger for fucks sake, can’t cross the ball is sacriligeous. It was widely reported in November 2010 that Nani had installed a lifesize statue of himself in his house in Wilmslow. If I was Sir Alex, I’d pick the statue to play on the flank before I’d pick that spineless waster again. Nani is as infuriating player that I’ve seen play for United since Jesper Olsen from 1984 to 1989. Whilst Olsen was lightweight and inconsistent, he could cross a ball. On Saturday I commented that Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were out of form and out of confidence but for all that, give me them over Michael Jackson’s love child anyday.
For the first time since 2009, United have been knocked out of the FA Cup by a team that is not a despised rival. Despite all Chelsea’s posturing, particularly since all their fans dropped their draws and dignity to a trigger happy oligarch, they just don’t matter in the grand scheme of things to United unless we’re playing them or in a title race with them. I can guarantee that Chelsea, the club and it’s fans, look North to Old Trafford with far more frequency and attention than we would ever grace them with. They now go onto play the jolly Stopfordians at Wembley. They themselves can contend themselves with swaggering around the M6 and M40 services like Liam ‘n’ Noel, serene in the knowledge that there won’t be any coaches full of black clad moody reds, ready to put them on their giddy arses and shut their Munich chanting mouths whilst they run for their pathetic lives in a balmy Staffordshire night. Chelsea football club is surrounded by opulence, expensive ponced up bistro’s charging £15.00 a bowl for Irish Stew by the name of ragoût de mouton and an overwhelming smell of bullshit. Whatever they are and whatever they aspire to be, at heart they and the team they’ll be playing at Wembley, will never be United and they wish they were. They’ll deny it of course but to paraphrase William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (act 3, scene 2) ‘They doth protest too much, methinks’. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Chelsea fans have nicked almost their entire songbook from United (with to be fair, a little seasoning thrown in from Liverpool). In the mid 1990s, they wanted to be the “Man United of the South” but for all that money and crummy Stone Island gear their fans wear, they’re a load of racist spouting England followers with a despicable manager who has not as much a chip as 56lb bag of spuds on each shoulder (FACT!!). In recent meetings against United, their pathetically mute fans would suddenly burst into life to boo Rio Ferdinand for being the brother of a man their team skipper served a four match ban for racially abusing. This perfectly sums up Chelsea fans. Class to Chelsea is George Gideon Osborne, Ashley Cole and Jason fuckin’ Cundy. Thank Christ that for all our imperfections, we’re not them.
Even though on the balance of play, United may have been unlucky today, I have to say that Chelsea deserved to go through because they took their chances and United blew theirs. Petr Cech, for the second time in the match and the third time in the tie pulled off a truly incredible save from a Javier Hernandez header to re-affirm his postion as the best keeper in the Premier League, just in case anybody was daft enough to think that the present England keeper was. Immediately after that breathtaking save, Robin Van Persie was brought on to perform his firemans role for Tom Cleverley in the 62nd minute. Van Persie missed two good chances late in the game to now make it nine club games without a goal. That is only a stat though, he was crucial to the winning goal at Sunderland on Saturday and after the contribution he’s made to the goalscoring tally this season, if anybody is to be cut some slack in this United team/squad for misfiring form, it’s Van Persie. United got to this replay through the skin of their teeth. Having squandered a comfortable postion in the previous game against Chelsea, United were hanging on for dear life at the end of that game with only a magnificent David De Gea save from a Juan Mata shot in injury time, stopping Chelsea winning the match. Lethargy was used as an excuse at the time for United’s collapse in the second half. United had been in a dramatic match against Real Madrid at Old Trafford five days prior to the match whilst Chelsea had been involved in a Europa League match in Bucharest three days before. Under them circumstances, lethargy doesn’t wash as an explanation. There was an overwhelming sense today that once Demba Ba put Chelsea in front, it was going to be the winner. United played with plenty of possesion but no urgency or threat.
Anybody who jibbed in todays match has my full respect. Rarely have I seen it so on top, I believe it would have been easier breaching Checkpoint Charlie at the height of the cold war than it would have been blagging your way past the Bovril Gate of Stamford Bridge today and that was well before you were near any turnstile. To all the lads and lasses who picked up dawn coaches and turned out on this bitterly cold South Western London day, we deserved far better than the drivel and the alcohol free ground catering we were served up. Beat City next Monday and all will be forgiven, that said, after this and recent performances, nobody is under any illusions that there needs to a wholesale change in Manchester Uniteds squad over the summer. It just isn’t good enough. As United We Stand columnist Steve Armstrong said, “Biggest disappointment for me yesterday was that five pigeons sat pecking in Cech’s six yard box for fifteen minutes without anyone going near them”.
Thanks to Peter Gorton for his help in writing this blog