There certainly won’t be much talk in the week of Manchester United’s record against Chelsea of having beaten them three times in the season.
That record, for now, will be overshadowed in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 3 – 1 victory against Ole Gunnar Solskajer’s side in the F.A. Cup semifinal clash between the two sides, their fourth of the season, and by far, the most important.
Going into the match, it seemed almost a guarantee that Manchester United would get past the Blues to fix a date with Arsenal in the final next month, but as United learned, the London clubs, which were generally written off, have definitely proven superior to the clubs from Manchester.
Following the now-concluded F.A. Cup semifinal fixtures, here are four talking points from United’s most crucial game this season against the Blues:
1. It might be time for United to consider a change between the goalposts.
David de Gea.
He is the first player responsible for United’s failure to overcome the Blues. Two attempts straight at him from Olivier Giroud in the first half and Mason Mount in the second, especially Mount’s shot from outside the 18-yard area, should not have beaten de Gea.
Although he made a couple of decent saves for his side, the two goals he practically gifted Chelsea were the highlights of one of his most lackluster appearances in the United goal.
His performance in the match is a summary, as well as indicative, of a generally poor season where his howlers cost United crucial points (and games), as seen against Chelsea.
It leaves on to wonder, why was back-up keeper Sergio Romero left on the bench in a Cup fixture?
The Argentine may not have had many chances in goal for United, but whenever he’s been called up, he shines between the posts.
He proved his efficacy for United throughout the duration of the 2016/2017 UEFA Europa League, and he’s done relatively well for the side in each and every cup competition where he replaces de Gea in goal.
So why was he left out of the squad for this crucial fixture?
Especially in a season where United’s No.1 has generally not at all been the goalkeeper he once was, the goalkeeper that was once United’s light in a dark period during the past five seasons when United were struggling to even qualify for the Europa League.
While de Gea’s contributions for the Reds are well and truly recognized, his value having been well established in seasons prior, it’s clear that he isn’t who he once was.
It makes no sense, really, that because he was so superb in goal for United in past seasons, that he now should use the status he gained as one of the world’s best goalkeepers then as an excuse to now get complacent, unbothered by his mistakes, and generally lacking the concentration he once had. Past glory is not an excuse for present shame.
For how long are United going to continue to be hung up by the illusion of the glory of that past David de Gea, while being blind to the reality of the player who’s now but a shadow of his former self?
It might be time to give another goalkeeper a chance. It’s time for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer to own up to the reality of the issues he has in goal.
Or United continue to pay the price.
2. The United defense, as well as the squad in general, still leaves a lot to be desired.
The United defense, having been bolstered in the summer transfer window to erase memories of their shambolic performance last season, seemed to still be lacking the formidability and water-tightness required to concede less goals.
United lost the game as soon as Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly suffered head injuries after knocking heads together in the first half, the 0 – 0 score-line at the time notwithstanding.
Harry Maguire, for all the hype his transfer to United generated, was as lackluster in the game as we’ve seen all season.
From a failure to convert headers from corner kicks in his opponents’ area, to failures to clear crosses and corner kicks in his own area, the Englishman will be seen by many as more or less an £80 million over-ration.
He summed up his inefficacy in the game with an unfortunate own goal to seal United’s fate, effectively helping Chelsea to beat his side.
He’s not a bad defender, but for the £80 million United splashed out to procure his services, he’s not good enough.
3. Ole Gunnar underestimated Chelsea via his starting selection, as well as his substitutions.
The United boss, despite his best intentions, continues to baffle in key areas. And he baffled again in the cup clash.
His starting selections for the game showed an underestimation of Chelsea’s decisiveness in key fixtures.
Martial, a player well known to be the scourge of the Chelsea defense, was on the bench, and Sergio Romero, United’s choice keeper for cup competitions, was also not given the chance he deserved.
Aside that, the change in his tactics following the injuries to Bailly and Maguire were even more baffling.
Why bring on a striker, when your two central defenders have just suffered concussions, with one of them having to be stretchered off the field, leaving your defense compromised?
That’s not even the worst part.
The late substitution of Odion Ighalo for Rashford was... well, disappointing to put it mildly.
The team were losing 3 – 0, indicating that the attacking line was, clearly, not having a good day.
Ighalo has shown to be decisive in front of goal when he’s on the pitch, especially when brought on in time. Why bring him on, ten minutes to the final whistle, when the United midfield would have already been too exhausted to properly support his attacking runs?
4. For all of Chelsea’s losses against Manchester United in the season, they proved (again) that they win where it matters.
Chelsea have proved time and again this season that, while they may lose, they have that key ability to win crucial games (and points) where they matter.
Going into the cup clash against Manchester United, they were taunted by the football world concerning the three defeats they have suffered at the hands of United in the season.
But now that they've won the single most important fixture between the sides, the “beat them three times” chants can’t sound sillier at the moment.
What’s the point of beating a side three times prior, when they beat you at the time when it’s most crucial to win?
For what it’s worth, they lose games and still prove superior to United in the league table and in the F.A. Cup.
United go 19 games unbeaten and still cannot take advantage where they need to.
Well, the unbeaten hype has stopped now, and that’s a good thing. If losing will make you determined to seize opportunities, win where it counts, and clearly indicate your stance, then, losing the match isn’t the worst thing to happen to United.
The Blues have now denied United the chance to win two F.A. Cups in the space of two years.
It doesn’t matter if they were not the same teams from two years ago in 2018 that played under different managers then, but it’s more or less still the same mentality of underestimation.
The United side were lacking in midfield creativity, their attacking runs were poor, and the communication between the forwards was, unlike before, not just there in the game.
And while the defense, to be fair, was compromised by injuries, the defending, generally, was woeful.
They were generally second best in all departments, compared to a superior Blues side.
Manchester United will feel hard done by their failure to set a record of having beaten Chelsea four times in one season, but their performance in the game clearly showed they did not deserve to.
When you have a goalkeeper and a defender that inadvertently become the best players for your opponents, what do you expect?
United may have won three battles in the Premier League against the Blues, but have now lost the war in the F.A. Cup, and for the second time in two years.
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