In this series, I review my in-ground experience throughout the campaign, this time for Manchester United at home. It’s split into two columns, one for home games and the other for away days. I run through various topics from atmosphere to a game review and give some unique observations directly from stadiums up and down the country.
Manchester United (H): Pre Match Prediction
After a huge Champions League victory on Tuesday night, the Blues were back in action at home against Manchester United. It was a mammoth fixture, only made more interesting by the manager saga of the Red Devils currently. Plus, with Chelsea wanting to maintain their lead at the top of the table, the stakes were high for both sides.
Much like the previous game, it was a cold evening fixture under the lights in West London. Playing on a Sunday at 4:30pm has a certain allure to it – a signal that this is the biggest game of the weekend. And, judging by the build-up to this one, it certainly felt that way.
It was a tough one to call, even though the home side were arguably the favourites, but my prediction pre-match was as follows:
‘I cannot wait for this one. Somehow it has been four years since we beat Manchester United in the league, and I’m confident we’ll change that record today. They were unconvincing against Villarreal in midweek, while we looked utterly dominant against Juventus.
The lineup is as strong as it can be given the current injury situation, so I don’t have any complaints in that regard. In truth, with the form we are in, Tuchel could have put out any team and I’d still feel as though we should get all three points.
At the risk of sounding over confident, I can see a win coming this evening. I’m going with 3-0 to Chelsea and, in what is possibly the easiest prediction of all time, I think Reece James will get a goal for himself at some point.’
After what feels like a long absence from it, I was back in the Matthew Harding stand for this game. Sitting in other areas of the stadium, while by no means poor, just isn’t the same in terms of atmosphere. Plus, for such a big game, it seemed crazy to even consider going anywhere else.
My seat was in Row H which, while a little low down when the action was at the other side of the pitch, gave a pretty incredible view. Also, I was lucky enough to be near the corner flag, so felt right amongst the action, particularly when the Blues were attacking our end.
As always, for those not fully familiar with the stadium layout, I was in the stand on the right of the camera, behind the far corner flag. While the recent announcement on safe standing being officially introduced from January is a welcome one, it is realistically meaningless considering almost everyone already stands in this area.
That of course adds to the atmosphere hugely, which against Man United was as excellent as ever, with a huge amount of noise created throughout. Overall, a brilliant seat to have for such an important game and one I would return to regularly if I could.
Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United: Game Review
The first half didn’t have a whole lot of action in all honesty, though it did involve the Blues having almost all the possession. So much so, that it felt as though the ball never even crossed the halfway line in the opening 45 minutes.
There were a couple of speculative long shots, the closest of which came from Antonio Rudiger, but nothing too threatening. In fairness, to the visitor, they did look fairly organised defensively for most of the game, much to Chelsea’s frustration.
Otherwise, there wasn’t much to see before the half time whistle went, as various half chances came and went. By no means a bad half, but also not one of the best for Tuchel’s side, particularly this season when most have been fast-paced.
Unfortunately, while the second half did bring some action fairly early on, it wasn’t the sort home fans were hoping for. A mistake from Jorginho allowed Jadon Sancho in and he finished with ease, giving his side a shock lead.
For a time, it seemed as though the Blues were in disarray, but, following a corner, Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot for a foul on Thiago Silva. Jorginho duly tucked it away, making up for his earlier error, and it seemed as though a winner was on the way.
But, despite sustained periods of possession and multiple opportunities, that second goal never came. There was one brief moment right at the end where it seemed a Rudiger volley would win it at the death, but he blazed it over the bar and both teams had to settle for a point each.
Things you don’t see and hear on TV
Perhaps in part due to the fact my seat was right on the edge of the Matthew Harding stand, there wasn’t quite as good an atmosphere as I was hoping for. It certainly wasn’t poor, but there were times, especially in the first half, where it felt a little low.
That said, when chants did get going they definitely felt as though they were sung with extra passion, no doubt due to the opposition. After the equaliser, even the West Lower was getting involved in songs – and for those who have been to the Bridge, they’ll know how rare that is!
Throughout the match, various songs directed at the man in the middle, Anthony Taylor, were sung (most of which I can’t repeat here), with him now having a definite reputation among Chelsea fans for being ‘that ref’.
Interestingly, it seemed for the first time this season as though the home fans were slightly frustrated with the lack of changes from Tuchel. Romelu Lukaku’s name was sung regularly from around the 60th minute, in a bid to get the boss to bring the striker in, but it took 20 minutes before it worked.
One of my favourite chants of the game came when Scott McTominay went down for an extended period of time near the end of the game. Miraculously, he was fine about three minutes later, but as he jogged to the side of the pitch, he was met with ‘You’re just a s**t Billy Gilmour’, and it’s hard to disagree.
Finally, as fans left the stadium, there was an almost surreal moment considering the time of year. After an utterly freezing 90 minutes, snow began to fall on the crowd of supporters heading home, signalling a bizarre end to a frustrating evening.
It might not have been a loss, but given the sheer dominance shown by the Blues today, it certainly feels like one at the moment. United’s chances were so limited it makes it all the more annoying that we couldn’t keep a clean sheet too.
Nevertheless, it serves as a good reminder of the fact we do have weaknesses, both at the back and in front of goal.
And, thinking back to that snow flurry, it actually highlights just how long there is to go until a potentially sunny Sunday afternoon in May.
Written and Edited by Noah Robson (@noahrobson_)
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