In a game in which both sides seemed to have a lack of motivating factors behind them, Chelsea were slight pre-match underdogs. The fans were the only ones in the stadium providing a typical cup final atmosphere after the morning’s Royal Wedding bonanza, as the football began slowly.
Both sides were cagey and playing well within their margins, positionally. Then, on 22 minutes a long ball forward from Cesc Fabregas brought a good first touch on the half volley from Eden Hazard, who then had the goal at his mercy before Phil Jones dragged him down. After the Belgian converted the penalty, the contest turned into a luke-warm affair rather than the dour, drab affair it was earlier, as United’s purpose to score became more apparent.
It was not to be for the Reds however, as after periods of sustained pressure and a few counter attacks passed on, the match ended 1-0 to the Blues, who one could hardly say did anything wrong, as both before and after the penalty, they were hardly required to take any risks moving forward.
From a United fan’s perspective, it is disappointing to have lost a game in which the team actually made a decent effort to score a goal, as we don’t see that very often under Jose Mourinho. A team needs to put effort into trying to score goals consistently before they can be graced with the fortune of scoring lucky ones. United have been generally underwhelming in attack this season, with only 68 league goals scored.
Chelsea had no real difficulty defending against United, with the disappointing Marcus Rashford starting in place of Romelu Lukaku. A game which starts slowly and carefully is not ideal for Rashford, who is at his best playing the game at pace and with space to run into. However, if I have to find an area in which United were particularly dull, it would be somewhere on the pitch between Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera. One can hardly say that Paul Pogba dominates a certain area of the pitch every game. Only the defensive Matic has shown mettle positionally for United all season, with everybody in between him and Lukaku looking a little transparent apart from the odd burst of magic from Jesse Lingard.
Chelsea meanwhile will consider this a win which was given to them rather than earned, but won’t argue with the silverware. Against a backdrop of Conte’s questionable future with the club and poor performances all season, they have a trophy, which is all that history will remember. They might well have many changes in their lineup and staff come August, but will be playing in the Community Shield against Manchester City in the preview match for the 18/19 Premier League season.
Manchester United have much work to do, as the current squad chemistry leaves a lot to be desired. So much so, that it is hard to really see which areas they should focus on in the transfer market.
Jose Mourinho has some soul-searching to do and I can’t help but feel that this coming season will be one that defines his career and legacy. Will he become another Arsene Wenger – outdated and superseded by his younger rivals – or will he be able to show that he is pragmatic and still a winner, despite Guardiola’s potential era of domination?
The team seems to be better at reacting to adversity rather than taking initiative from the start, with their best performance of the season coming against Manchester City in a miracle 3-2 second half comeback after being battered into oblivion in the opening period. When they are expected to win, they lose to teams like Sevilla in the Champions League and Chelsea at Wembley. When they are not expected to win, they beat all their top six rivals in the home stretch of the season.
Wing-back has been a weak spot going forward in United’s squad all season, with the ageing Valencia, ageing but gritty Ashley Young (United’s James Milner equivalent), and the underused but unfortunately bang-average Shaw, Darmian and Blind missing altogether. If you could imagine two world class wing-backs added to the United lineup, they would be a much more effective unit. Even with Carrick gone, I feel there are enough players in the midfield to cover roughly 60 games a season. The abundance of left wingers (Alexis, Martial, Rashford) leaves questions as to why there is no complementary player on the right. For me, United are three players away from being a world class team – two wing-backs and one right winger. Until the squad is more balanced, they will not perform at a level where they can be England’s representatives on the continent again, let alone wrestle the league title from Manchester City.