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Jan 11, 2009

Scolari must face up to another failure

His summer smile had waned before winter set in. Now the Premier League's most famous moustache flanks a grimace. While Luiz Felipe Scolari scowled, it was understandable his sunny disposition has disappeared. This was as comprehensive a win as can be imagined between title rivals. To borrow the cliché, Chelsea were lucky to get nil. They did not have a shot near target, let alone on it, and Edwin van der Sar was as much of a spectator as the watching Jose Mourinho.

He built a side on secure enough foundations to continue earning results for more than a year after his departure. Now there are signs the team is falling apart. Their defence, normally structured so solidly, was breached three times, by Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov. Their midfield was strangely shaky, their attack often non-existent. Chelsea, in short, were utterly uninspired.

Well as United defended - and each of Gary Neville, Vidic, Jonny Evans and John O'Shea distinguished himself with a block or last-ditch tackle - their task was eased by Chelsea's abject display. Their vaunted talents' combined efforts posed United fewer problems than Derby's Kris Commons had four days earlier.

"I think it did damage, big damage," said Scolari. "We have to think about our future. Either we lose everything or we are men and we improve." Set-piece marking is one area where there is particular scope for improvement, but it is to the Brazilian's credit that he did not resort to excuses. "For 45 minutes in the second half, they [United] played very well. They were better than us in that time."

In the age of austerity at Stamford Bridge, he cannot rely on reinforcements. He added: "No, I don't want more players. I have very good players and I go with these players. These are my players, this is my squad. They are not tired. They played the last game, seven or eight days ago. They are in good condition but maybe not mentally." In that respect, they were poor. Scolari's big beasts turned into timid creatures. It summed up Didier Drogba's day when one shot resulted in a United throw and then he failed to even connect with another would-be attempt at goal. Michael Ballack's display was epitomised when he was dispossessed by Berbatov, scarcely a noted tackler. There are suggestions that, for his next contract, Ballack will accept a form of performance-related pay; on that basis, he would have earned little today.

Deco's selection suggested he retains his status as Chelsea's resident teacher's pet, even if his removal after a mediocre 45 minutes indicates Scolari is tiring of him. His replacement, Nicolas Anelka, was no more prominent and his partnership with Drogba was an alliance of anonymity, other than for the Ivorian's whinges.

United had a sole cause for complaint when Rooney was punished for his ingenuity. Unbeknown to the officials, he touched a short corner to Giggs, whose cross was headed in by Ronaldo and disallowed. With a retake ordered, Giggs supplied the ball that Berbatov flicked on for Vidic to head in at the back post. The Serbian eluded John Terry and, if there are unlikely to be T-shirts made about his latest misfortune against Manchester United, that was savoured nonetheless by the majority.

In a one-sided second half, United trebled their lead. Evra escaped from a hobbling Jose Bosingwa to deliver a cross that Berbatov touched and Rooney converted. The Bulgarian completed his involvement in all three goals by sidefooting in Cristiano Ronaldo's free kick.

"It was a great win for us," said Sir Alex Ferguson. I don't think they had a clear-cut chance. Often these games are so tight that it's hard to pick a winner but getting the goal going into half-time certainly made a difference. "We've said all along that we've got the main teams at home and we need to win those games. We've got the first one out of the road and we've got some tough games coming up now."

In theory, this was a tough game. In practice, it was surprisingly easy. That is both a measure of United's superiority and an indictment of Chelsea.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Ryan Giggs - There was general surprise when Michael Carrick was omitted for Giggs, but the 35-year-old justified Ferguson's faith. Skipping his way through a crowded midfield, his reading of the game and willingness to take the initiative proved invaluable. If one moment typified his performance, it was when he anticipated a surge forward by Jose Bosingwa and shadowed the Chelsea right-back expertly.

MOAN OF THE MATCH: Some of the Chelsea fans spent a portion of the match telling Ronaldo: "You should have died in the tunnel." Football clubs often display a remarkable inability to hear such sick comments when voiced by their own fans. It is to be hoped Chelsea proved the exception and condemn the guilty supporters. Scolari's verdict on his former charge's car crash was: "I say to Cristiano: 'Pray every day and think about life. Life is fantastic.' I don't know what they sung, because my focus is on the game."

MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: They could be top on Saturday if they win their games in hand and it was a performance worthy of potential champions. Evra's return at left-back added another outlet, Vidic responded to the role of the senior centre-back in Rio Ferdinand's continued absence and Giggs excelled. Perhaps the most meaningful contribution, however, was Berbatov's: a man who has decorated more games than he has determined managed two assists and a goal.

CHELSEA VERDICT: They were dreadful. By a process of elimination Petr Cech could be considered their best performer, simply because the rest erred so often. "It is my job now to change something," Scolari said and, on this evidence, plenty of changes are required. Restoring Anelka to the side may help.

SAY IT AIN'T SO, JOSE: Scolari's verdict on the appearance of a former Chelsea manager was: "Mourinho didn't come here to say 'I love you'. He came here to look at his opposing team for the Champions League."

HITTING BACK: Ferguson's verdict on Rafa Benitez's criticisms of him was: "I think you've got to cut through the venom of it and hopefully he'll reflect on it and understand what he was saying was ridiculous. I think he was an angry man and he was disturbed for some reason and that's all I've got to say about it."

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