Much of the pre-match tactical discussion centered around the battle between Mikel and Wayne Rooney. Carlo Ancellotti’s use of a 4-4-2 against United backfired in the Champions’ League because it allowed Wayne Rooney (in his new No. 10 role) to run the game.
The result was a return to 4-3-3 for Chelsea, with Drogba flanked by Kalou and Florent Malouda. Mikel’s return was supposed to give Frank Lampard and Micheal Essien the freedom to go forward in a game Chelsea needed to win, while stopping Rooney at the same time. Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry and Ashley Cole made up the back four. Alex Ferguson reverted to what many believe to be his ‘big game’ line up, with Rooney behind Hernandez and Valencia hugging the touch line on the right, Giggs just ahead of Carrick in midfield, with Park Ji-Sung tucked inside on the left. Patrice Evra’s absence meant John O’shea started at left back.
United started at a very high tempo which caught out Chelsea straight from kick-off. Giggs’ pass found Park who sprinted through and slipped a through-ball for Hernandez, who beat the offside trap and scored after 36 seconds. The positions Park took up throughout the game were a vital part of United’s strategy. In attack, he didn’t stay wide, giving Ivanovic a problem as to whether to follow him out or stay put. When United didn’t have the ball, his industry was apparent, tracking back to help out O’Shea. On United’s right flank, Valencia was running riot, pinning back Cole and giving him a tough time defensively. It also meant that Chelsea lost the outlet on the left and had no width. Valencia also tracked back to help out Fabio when Chelsea had possession.
After the first goal, United’s tempo remained high, denying Chelsea any foothold in the game. The front three of Malouda, Kalou and Drogba barely had a sniff of goal. A second goal duly arrived through Vidic after a Giggs’ cross with first Kalou and then Ivanovic displaying slack marking.
Ancelotti made two changes at half-time, bringing on Alex for David Luiz (who was at fault for the first goal), and replacing Mikel with Ramires. With Mikel off, Rooney got more into the game and United created had chance after chance to kill the game off on the counter as Chelsea pushed forward. Torres came on for Kalou at the hour mark, and they did eventually pull a goal back through Lampard, who was anonymous until then. It set up a slightly nervy last 20 minutes, especially as United spurned yet more chances before the final whistle.
In conclusion, Alex Ferguson’s decision to rest many of his star names against Schalke paid off as Chelsea just couldn’t live with United’s tempo. Giggs and Park were instrumental in that. Going behind so early also meant Chelsea chased the game from the start, which given United’s strong home form, is never a good position to be in. This game might be remembered as one which was over before it started.