By Ewan Day-Collins at Stamford Bridge
It was perhaps the most unlikely of outcomes of a Champions League week that, to many observers, looked to hold no real reason for anticipating excitement or surprise. Yet the outcome at the end of it read that Manchester United, last years’ losing finalist, failed to qualify due to an abject performance last night. Meanwhile, one night previous to United’s loss, on Tuesday, witnessed a stunning showing at home as Chelsea progressed through as group leaders to the second round of Europe’s stellar competition.
So who were the tormenters, who managed to crush the United team? Basle. Who? Exactly. Their standing as domestic champions may appear impressive to the uniformed onlooker, but only until you realise that Basle FC are defenders of the Swiss crown, do you start to fathom how a Manchester United team of quality and experience managed to, not only sacrifice the match at St. Jakob Park, but failed to defeat this most energetic but evidently inferior side throughout the group stage. Sir Alex Ferguson conceded that, although this loss was unsatisfactory and riddled with faults, it was the draw at Old Trafford where United really forfeited there survival.
This inadequate play was in stark contrast to Chelsea’s victory over Spanish high-fliers Valencia. On a moonlit evening in South-West London the crowd were expectant but also nervous. Unlike the complacent United, Chelsea entered Stamford Bridge in the full knowledge that only a win or a scoreless draw would be sufficient. And with emphatic style they delivered.
Comparing the display of United, far more accomplished in this competition than their London rivals, with that of Chelsea’s, would cause an almost laughable result. However, after Drogba’s stunning achievements which included two goals and a burst forward to create the other for Ramires, a collective sigh of relief occurred in the ground, rather than the jubilance that would have been normality in years previous. Though the fans were naturally joyous, there can be no doubting the anxiety of the Chelsea faithful in a turbulent season which, on this evidence, is beginning to slowly decrease.
Unlike United however, the insecurity of the managerial position, so fluctuating under Roman Ambramovich in recent years, remains. The nascent yet unproven Villas-Boas is unlikely to copy his counterpart at Manchester United, Ferguson, but the faith in him is growing, though not fully matured.
Though the negligence of United will frustrate Sir Alex Ferguson, it will not cause the disharmony and ruptures that a Blues exit would have stimulated. Even considering their forced partaking in the Europa League will be an unwanted distraction for United, who join Manchester City also, the unequivocal and lasting effect this outcome would have caused for Villas-Boas is incomparable.
Not only would the residual consolation of the Europa League have been a scant offering from the Chelsea manager, the ever-increasing pressure to balance finances for clubs as a result of Financial Fair Play Regulations would have severely augmented at Stamford Bridge if Champions League money had not been assured. There will be no such worries at Old Trafford, despite the poor run of results is sure to be a concern for all around the club.
Although there is great disappointment for United fans at a Champions League retreat, the hyperbole of the implications of such events being talked of is ridiculous. They can all sleep indubitable in the fact that there equilibrium will not be too much disturbed. For Chelsea and in particular Andre Villas-Boas, the significance of this result cannot be questioned. This could be the start of a revival, at long last.
About the Author
Ewan Day-Collins is a 16-year-old aspiring journalist. He enjoys writing about sport – especially football, cycling and cricket – yet has many other interests besides. As well as writing for OldTrafford.com, Ewan has written for ESPN cricinfo, cricketweb and the i newspaper. He hopes to pursue a career in journalism in the future.