Man United frustrates Chelsea's CL ambitions
Barcelona rode roughshod over Shakhtar Donetsk tonight in the Champions League quarterfinals, dealing the Ukrainian upstarts a humbling 5-1 defeat at Camp Nou. In the all-England clash, Chelsea were cold-cocked by Wayne Rooney and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, falling 1-0.
The second legs of the Champions League quarterfinals take place next Tuesday and Wednesday, and all games are carried live and in HD across the Fox family of networks.
Chelsea must still wait to get revenge for their bitter 2008 Champions League finals defeat at the hands of the Red Devils. Instead tonight, United added a new layer of pain and frustration for the Blues, snapping a nine-year winless streak at Chelsea’s ground in the process.
The goal itself was classic United: well-worked by Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs, then set on a plate for the bulldog to finish. Carrick’s lofted cross left and over the Chelsea back line found the seemingly ageless Welshman, who then left Jose Bosingwa in his dust. Pulling the ball back across the face of goal, Rooney had no other option than to sidefoot it in, the ball just nicking the post as it went in.
It was a snapshot of the entire game: where Rooney and his strike partner Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez were always searching for each other, Chelsea’s pairing of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres were at odds. Where United’s midfield could press and hold, Chelsea’s could not. And where Edwin van der Sar could make save after save, Petr Cech wasn’t given a chance by a defense that often looked unsure and brittle.
Chelsea fans will point to one controversial late moment in the game, when Patrice Evra became encumbered by Ramires and seemed to concede a penalty kick. But ref Alberto Mallenco - perhaps mindful that Torres had tried to con him earlier in the match with a horrendous dive - was charitable. It was a contestable call for sure, but on the balance, Chelsea never did enough to win the match.
Now, Carlo Ancelotti has serious questions to answer. He might start by asking why he continues to field a forward who cannot score goals, and follow up by revisiting his baffling decision to remove Drogba instead of Torres for Nicolas Anelka. Finally, he must reconsider his decision to field a 4-4-2 against United, a move that absolutely backfired on him.
This tie is far from over; in fact, in a week that has seen some real blowouts, this was instead the kind of professional, grinding game that we now expect from United and consequently remains poised. But the differences between the two sides are stark. One is a team, the other is a collection. One looks like champions. The other does not.
Speaking of collections, it must be said that Shakhtar clearly has a lot of attacking talent. They have players who can run past the best of them, and tonight, against the best of them, they did that more often than you would think. What they don’t have is a complete team, defensive acumen, or an ability to shift tactics on the fly. They remain tantalizing, but undercooked.
To improve, Shakhtar are going to have to keep hold of players like Willian, Douglas Costa and Luiz Adriano, a Brazilian trio who are certainly on the radar of bigger clubs. All three were entertaining on the night and caused Barcelona true problems. But the scoreline - and it was a brutal one - tells all.
Barcelona coolly pumped five past the Ukrainian champs tonight, and possibly could have nicked a couple more. Andres Iniesta started the festival in only the second minute, when he collected a ball from Lionel Messi, danced right over three defenders and then blasted one inside the near post.
The Spaniards still weren’t fully settled, and Adriano and Willian had solid looks that they could not convert. Dani Alves nearly gifted them a goal when he sent a badly judged backpass that Adriano should have leveled with. But, Alves redeemed himself shortly thereafter when he collected an audacious if not downright insulting pass from Iniesta, danced round Andriy Pyatov and fired home.
Gerard Pique was the next man up, losing Adriano on a corner kick, and putting Xavi’s service off Yaroslav Rakitskiy and into Pyatov’s nets. Rakitskiy did pull one back after the intermission, deflecting a free kick in on a play that showed Barcelona’s attention to defending is sometimes lacking. However, one minute later, Seydou Keita was teed up by Messi, and he ably hoofed it home. Xavi added to the misery when he was set up by Alves with only five left on the clock.
The only blemish on what was more a coronation than a soccer game? Iniesta collected a card that will keep him out of the next match. He’s not likely to be needed.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.