Saturday 16 December 2017

Scholes applies heat in season of surprises

Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney celebrate after Scholes' injury-time goal gave Manchester United a dramatic victory in the Manchester derby yesterday
Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney celebrate after Scholes' injury-time goal gave Manchester United a dramatic victory in the Manchester derby yesterday

MANCHESTER UNITED were unrecognisable at Eastlands yesterday. Until injury-time, when they began to look familiar.

With 20 seconds left, Paul Scholes, the only creative player on the pitch for most of a turgid game, twisted in the box and headed past Shay Given. Manchester United, as they always contrive to do, had managed to insert themselves in their rivals' heads.

Once again, it worked. Last night at White Hart Lane, Chelsea were dismantled by a scintillating Tottenham Hotspur who continued the day's theme of enlightened self-interest by capitalising on Manchester City's dropped points and helping United, who are now a point behind Chelsea, out in the process.

When we try and retrospectively apply sense to this season's title race we will be wasting our time. When Inter knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League, shortly after they had lost at Stamford Bridge to Manchester City, it was suggested that their season could now unravel. Then they went and won at Old Trafford.

In fact, the revisionists said, getting knocked out of Europe was the best thing that ever happened to Chelsea. Then they heard about Roman Abramovich's decision to tell a few home truths to the squad and decided that was the best thing that ever happened to Chelsea . Now, maybe losing to Chelsea was the best thing that ever happened to United?

There is no explaining it anymore, except to delight in the excitement and note that there is no outstanding team in the title race. Arsenal may even be back in it. In an ordinary year, Chelsea should have had nothing to fear about a trip to White Hart Lane, but this is no ordinary year. Even the most optimistic Tottenham supporters had expected their side to be affected by the victory against Arsenal because it is in Tottenham's nature to be as severely affected by victory as defeat.

Instead they ended the day wondering why their side hadn't scored five and believing that their club were heading for the Champions League.

Driven by outstanding performances from Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson, they made Chelsea look average. Chelsea may well be average. At half-time at White Hart Lane, Carlo Ancelotti looked at his substitutes and told Nicolas Anelka to remain on the pitch.

Anelka is a team man these days and obeyed. Minutes later there was chaos again as Didier Drogba was injured kicking off and wanted to come off. Chelsea had used all their subs and weren't allowed reverse one even though the game had not kicked off.

They struggled on but looked lifeless and without ideas — in the end they were without their captain Terry who was sent off in the second half.

“It was impossible then,” Carlo Ancelotti said.

Scholes had reminded Chelsea what has to be done when he headed some life into United and may even have been kissed on the lips by Gary Neville. As he rarely talks to the press, Scholes won't tell us if he considers this a price worth paying.

Tottenham have beaten Arsenal and Chelsea in a week, furthering their own ambitions and ensuring the title will not be decided yet. Ancelotti has brought this side close to their first title since Jose Mourinho left. They may yet clinch it, but nothing could be said to be going according to plan.

Last night, Ancelotti felt the game was lost in the first 15 minutes when Spurs ripped into them. But it may have been lost in the final minute of injury-time in Manchester.

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