x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Chelsea can take comfort from Manchester United defeat

Chelsea lost three points at Old Trafford, but the second half display, the amount of chances created and a glimmer of form from Fernando Torres bode well for the season.

Given the euphoria surrounding the start to the season made by the two Manchester clubs, you could be forgiven for thinking the league is a two-horse race.

In the goal scoring and entertainment stakes, City and United have been on another level, netting 17 and 21 goals from five games respectively, with only Roberto Mancini's side dropping any points.

Yet Chelsea know all to well that a flying start does not equate to a winning season. Like United, they began last season with five victories and scored 21 goals, but finished second in the table, nine points off the pace.

On paper, Chelsea's 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford on Sunday looks comfortable for United, but the flow of the game told another story. Chelsea have every right to be optimistic in defeat.

Firstly, this is not rugby union and there are no bonus points for heavy scoring. Chelsea lie just five points off top spot in the table, with 33 games to go.

Secondly, Andre Villas-Boas called the match "crazy" and it was. It could have been 6-1 to United, it could have been 5-3 to Chelsea. With a woeful miss by Fernando Torres, another by Ramires plus the fact the visitors had 21 attempts on David de Gea's goal and it is easy to see why their manager was left bemoaning bad luck.

Just as City dropping points at Fulham unmasked a weakness, so too the fact that Chelsea broke United's back line regularly showed a frailty for the champions that has been hidden by the number of goals scored.

A third factor to consider was the performance in the second half on Sunday. Chelsea won the final 45 minutes 1-0 and, while Torres prompted ridicule with an extraordinary miss, he put in possibly his best display in a Chelsea shirt against United.

The goal to make it 3-1 at the start of the second half was classic Torres and even though he sliced wide on 75 minutes, the timing of the run and his shimmy round the keeper were first class.

Likewise, Chelsea's improved second half display was down to a bold move by Villas-Boas, withdrawing Frank Lampard, moving Daniel Sturridge and Nicolas Anelka wide and putting Juan Mata in the hole behind Torres. It made his side more effective.

The Chelsea manager has already demonstrated he is willing to drop stalwarts such as Lampard, if necessary. And his move at Old Trafford showed a desire to find a fluid, attractive game plan.

Before Sunday's game, Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, predictably reminded everyone he still expects Chelsea to be title challengers this season

And if Villas-Boas is able to harness his attacking talents in the right formation, the title might not end up in Manchester after all.

twoods@thenational.ae