Manchester United and Chelsea's meetings have become the games which decide the destination of the Premier League Title. The odd thing about the clashes of the big four is how boring and anodyne they have become- the clubs being efficient, athletic and sometimes not much more. Today it was with a feeling of resignation that I realised I had missed Aston Villa and West Brom and instead would have to watch United play Chelsea. The problem with these games is easy to work out from watching them- the hype is too big and so are the stakes. Today's finished 1-1 and probably the score was justified by the match- yet as entertainment, despite the enthusiastic commentary of Messrs Gray and Redknapp, both sides might have lost.
Perhaps though we shouldn't blame them too much. Mike Riley the referee had a shocking game- seemingly he had woken up deciding to penalise every moment of physical contact with a freekick and find as many Manchester United players to book as possible. United actually started brightly, playing purposively towards the opposition box. Rio Ferdinand had a good chance- Wayne Rooney hooked the ball just wide of the post- and there were numerous other chances. Eventually the ball broke, a shot came in, Cech got his hands to it and it bounced into the path of Park who slotted the ball into the back of the net- United 1 Chelsea 0.
Afterwards the first half broke down into Mr Riley's interruptions, the odd chance for Chelsea, the odd chance for United. Chelsea probably had the balance of the play and the balance of the nastiness. Lampard was culpable for example of trying to get Fletcher booked deliberatately by kicking the ball against him, pretending that the United midfielder had attempted obstruction. Riley at least was wise to that. But the gamesmanship continued into the second half. By the end players like Ronaldo were just collapsing as soon as another player touched them, knowing that Riley's response would be to give a freekick.
The second half saw Chelsea score- Kalou put the ball into the back of the net. In reality Chelsea deserved it- Anelka missed an open goal from five yards out and had a shocking game. Drogba came on at half time- after a prolonged spell of confusion- for Malouda who had done nothing. Drogba didn't really have much of an impact- from my position it was both Coles who really played well for Chelsea. But in the end a draw was fair.
Perhaps the game though will be more notable for injuries- Van der Sar collapsed after a challenge from Malouda- Carvalho was taken off after 12 minutes and Deco didn't even complete the warmup. Carvalho in particular could be a massive loss for Chelsea if the injury turns out to be serious. On the evidence of this game they also need Deco. The game in itself was not significant but the injuries could well be.