Thursday 21 November 2019

Van Persie gives United striking edge over Blues

Paul Hayward

Insert Robin van Persie into this Chelsea side and they would be frightening. The paradox of all Roman Abramovich's extravagance is that the most expensive player he has ever bought is holding this team back.

You may have missed this in the stampede to analyse Fernando Torres' sending off on a second yellow card -- for simulation -- but when Chelsea's £50m man collected the ball in the middle of the pitch with a clear run towards Manchester United's goal he started looking wide for someone to offload the ball to.

Torres found himself alone and was forced to stride on at a pace that seldom looks convincing. The initial dart of his eyes said that he was uncomfortable with the opportunity he had been given.

As he rumbled into United's final third, Jonny Evans thrust a boot at his shin and Torres went over as if the victim of a heavy foul. To send him off in these circumstances was plain wrong.

But there was plenty in his all-round play to make Chelsea wish they could write Van Persie's name on their team-sheet instead. The European champions traipsed away harbouring all sorts of grievances.

Torres might have stayed on his feet under light contact but could not be accused of diving in the strictest sense. He is guilty, though, of sluggishness around the pitch and squandering a general blessing.

For a striker to look up and see Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar in the same colours in advanced creative roles, is a jackpot-win. Most days, Torres is not worthy of this good fortune.

Van Persie took to the pitch here tightly coiled and primed to inflict more damage in the arena where he struck a dazzling hat-trick for Arsenal last term.

He was the master of all his thoughts and movements. You could tell he would give David Luiz and Gary Cahill trouble from the moment he stepped on the field.

His contribution dropped after half-time but by then United's freshman centre-forward had smashed a shot against a post and then on to Luiz's thigh for a Chelsea own goal and doubled the lead from an Antonio Valencia cross.

Chelsea's response was marvellous.

Let down by their back-four in the early exchanges, Mata, Hazard and Oscar found the rhythm that has swept them to the top of the Premier League table.

Torres forced a good save from David de Gea just before the interval but all the best work was going on behind him. Mata, especially, is a man inspired. And Hazard is the aggressive kind of artist, always ready to fight for the ball so he can use it cleverly. Mata (19) is now outscoring Torres (18).

In the age of midfield power, Chelsea chased games by piling through the centre, with Frank Lampard and Michael Essien scattering bodies and Didier Drogba positioning himself for the kill.

Now, we see a more subtle pattern of angled passing between gaps and positional interchanges between the trio of playmakers.

"We responded fantastically well to get back into the game and equalise - and I was pretty confident we would go on and win the game," said Roberto Di Matteo, their manager.

The symphonic fightback was halted when Branislav Ivanovic was dismissed for clipping Ashley Young and Torres was sent off for a 'dive.' Even then United needed the match officials not to notice that Javier Hernandez started in an offside position for the winning goal.

Though Torres is entitled to feel aggrieved, he was fortunate not to be ejected for a nasty foul on Tom Cleverley.

Three seasons have passed since the experts started noticing a certain rattiness in Torres' mood on the pitch. The Cleverley foul was one of those that tempt some to think his anger stems from the waning of his powers.

The whole stage was arranged for El Nino to prosper this season. He could have no excuses. Yet his movements still seem laboured; the precision in front of goal, not quite there.

Van Persie has scored half as many goals for United already as Torres has posted in two-and-a-half seasons at Stamford Bridge. In 58 appearances, Torres has scored only 18 times: a weak strike-rate.

Ramires, another midfielder, is not far behind, with 16.

No wonder the word is so strong that Abramovich will descend on another Atletico Madrid legend -- Radamel Falcao -- to end the anomaly of such an upwardly mobile team carrying their most expensive player.

Buying Van Persie from Arsenal was a surgical act by Ferguson, whose United side lost last season's title race to Manchester City on goal difference.

The front of this United team now has a nicely sharpened tip.

The same cannot be said of Chelsea. They are unlikely to tolerate that much longer. Not with so much talent in their ranks. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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