Oct 2, 2012, 5:36 PM EST
It wasn’t easy for either of the English giants, though it would be an exaggeration to say it was hard. Chelsea and Manchester United had their share of obstacles on the road against Champions League minnows, yet each earned a comfortable three points, vaulting them to the top of their UEFA Champions League groups.
Chelsea had the easier of things, showing early signs of dominating Danish champions FC Nordsjaelland. The underdogs had trouble matching the Blues’ early pressure, though by the middle of the first half, FCN were holding enough of the ball to set up in Chelsea’s end and ask a few questions. Had Chelsea not scored before halftime, this match could have been destined for a 0-0, the holders faced with a newly-confident underdog coming out of halftime. Instead, a well-executed goal eventually put in by Juan Mata gave the Blues a halftime lead.
In the second half, Nordsjaelland eventually broke. Chelsea got goals from David Luiz, Mata, and Ramires, leaving the final score at a deceptive 4-0.
The Danes were better than that, and Chelsea deserve credit for putting up a lopsided score against a team that was more than minnows. Ultimately, though, this is just holding serve. The Blues were expected to get these points, got them, and now move on to back-to-back games against Group E co-leading Shakhtar Donetsk. Chelsea’s well-equipped to handle Shakhtar, but as the Ukrainian champions showed today at Juventus, they’ll be formidable.
In Romania, Manchester United got an early scare, conceding an goal that sparked memories of last year’s Champions League disappointment. Take away the score, however, and the match was only slightly different than Chelsea’s. Both English giants were feeling the bite of an emboldened host. While Cluj looked more dangerous than Nordsjaelland, the challenge remained the same. Despite the deficit, United just needed to keep playing their game.
It quickly paid off. Robin van Persie headed United even before half time. In the second half, a beautiful pass from Wayne Rooney produced and unstoppable volley from van Persie. Combined with 65 percent possession, it was a well-earned win for United, 2-1.
That doesn’t mean the Red Devils won’t be in for some criticism, especially after giving Cluj a chance to draw even near the end. Nobody who criticized United before this match will be convinced. But Manchester United (and their fans) should be used to the same qualms they’ve continually heard in the post-Ronaldo era. They never look good. They never win by enough. Their midfield’s never that strong. Other teams control matches. Their defense is leaky. They need to settle on a goalkeeper. Overall, they’re very overrated.
All of which might be true, but season-after-season, the team continues to put up results. They posted 89 points in last year’s Premier League. Two years ago, they won the league and made the Champions League final. As long as the team keeps producing those kind of results, criticisms are better seen as ways to improve, not reasons United aren’t good. They are clearly a good team.
There is, however, the little detail of them missing group stage in last year’s Champions League. Today went a long way to correcting that problem. Three good points on the road give them six through two rounds. The points also make last year look less like a pattern and more like an aberration.
Dec 10, 2013, 4:53 AM EST
Groups A through D finish on Tuesday, with the tournament’s holders and England’s champions hoping to clinch top spots.
Dec 9, 2013, 11:34 PM EST
Whoever is next up in the Whitecaps’ managerial seat would surely love to have a 22-goal scorer to build around:
Dec 9, 2013, 10:50 PM EST
Still a highly regarded goalkeeper, Nielsen calls it quits just 48 hours after winning MLS Cup 2013:
Dec 9, 2013, 10:10 PM EST
Might the wandering Goats actually do something right?
Dec 9, 2013, 9:22 PM EST
Once again, Major League Soccer will become the globe’s first league to employ the new World Cup match ball:
Dec 9, 2013, 8:55 PM EST
Chicago’s Chris Rolfe, Houston’s Bobby Boswell, Seattle’s Steve Zakuani among the intriguing options:
Dec 9, 2013, 8:18 PM EST
Don’t miss the last save from the package, an absolute show-stopper from Aston Villa’s U.S. international Brad Guzan:
Dec 9, 2013, 8:01 PM EST
An alternative look at all the action from Week 15 of the PL:
Dec 9, 2013, 7:53 PM EST
Who says the MLS off-season is too short?
Dec 9, 2013, 7:30 PM EST
Round 15’s Team of the Week includes a throwback man in John Arne Riise:
Dec 9, 2013, 6:52 PM EST
FC Dallas had a busy day … but, uh, who is going to coach the team?
Dec 9, 2013, 6:32 PM EST
Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports talks about Arsenal, Manchester United and more:
Dec 9, 2013, 5:48 PM EST
One versus England potentially being arranged in Miami? And another against Canada ahead of next year’s World Cup?
Dec 9, 2013, 4:59 PM EST
Hull pick up a valuable road point as Swansea’s season of missed opportunities at home continues:
Dec 9, 2013, 3:59 PM EST
Major League Soccer has been steadfast on this one all along:
Dec 9, 2013, 2:48 PM EST
Can the Swans surge back into the top 10? Watch live on NBCSN:
Dec 9, 2013, 2:29 PM EST
We caught up with ‘beardless’ Howard after his impressive outing vs. Arsenal. Here’s what he had to say:
Dec 9, 2013, 1:27 PM EST
With a shortlist of over 50 names to choose from, what is your current best starting XI in world soccer?
Dec 9, 2013, 12:59 PM EST
With Michu in-line to return, could the Swans blow the Tigers away?
Dec 9, 2013, 12:06 PM EST
Moyes takes the blame but how much longer can he take the flack for his under-performing stars?
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