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Lee Dixon's tactical view

Chelsea's victory over Manchester United on Sunday was obviously a fantastic result for the Blues and leaves United five points adrift of the Premier League leaders.

But United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will not be overly perturbed given the quality of his team's performance on the day.

The United players would have been travelling home on the coach wondering how they lost, and Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti might reflect that his men got one over on the champions rather fortuitously.

United got their tactics right and it was one of those games in which you don't necessarily get what you deserve.

As the lone striker, Wayne Rooney did a great job of occupying the opposition centre-backs on his own and United stopped Chelsea's full-backs coming forward like we normally see.

Branislav Ivanovic broke clear on the right a couple of times in the first half but, in general, I thought United's five-man midfield, changing to 4-3-3 when they got the ball, was spot on.


And in the middle of all that was Darren Fletcher who, when you look at the quality and strength of Chelsea's midfield diamond, performed heroics.

In the first half Fletcher was everywhere and it seemed like his name was mentioned every five or 10 seconds, whether United had the ball or not.

Having played so well, he'll be bitterly disappointed not to have emerged on the winning side, or at least with a point.

Fletcher is so important to United because of his ability to break up opposition forays and turn defence into attack.

When you're playing against strikers with the pace of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, what you don't want to do is give them space in behind you so United held a fairly deep line.

Wes Brown and Jonny Evans, their centre-backs, retreated more or less to the edge of the box when Chelsea had the ball in their half so it was imperative to have someone sweeping up in front of the back four.

In Fletcher and Michael Carrick, United had two players capable of doing that on Sunday and their importance was magnified by the proven potency of Chelsea's midfield.

People have said Fletcher is more suited to the big games but I disagree - maybe when he has not played in the lesser games it's because Sir Alex is saving him for the bigger ones due to his value

Lee Dixon

Both players are great passers so after picking up lots of 'bits-and-pieces' balls and performing a sharp turn, their first thought is, 'Can I get the ball forward?'. It is vital for a team defending so deep to get moving up the pitch as quickly as possible.

But that pass forward has to be accurate and it has to stick because if you're playing one up front away from home and can't hold onto the ball, it'll just keep coming back at you.

And if you do that against a team of Chelsea's quality, eventually they will hurt you.

The importance, therefore, shifts to Rooney and he did a fine job of keeping possession and enabling the likes of Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia to arrive in support.

Chelsea were quite fearful of Rooney's pace so stood off him at times - but take nothing away from the way he led United's attack, creating openings for others and shooting when possible.

Fletcher's all-round game has improved significantly, to the point where I find it difficult to find a single weaknesses.

In the past you might have felt that Fletcher wouldn't have played when everyone else was fit. But now it's almost a case of picking the other eight because he is among two or three players who get into the team full stop.

Darren Fletcher challenges Frank Lampard
Fletcher produced a fine display but ended up on the losing side

People have said he is more suited to the so-called big games but I disagree. Maybe sometimes when he has not played in the lesser games it's because Sir Alex is saving him for the bigger ones due to his value.

Chelsea aside, I actually think he would get into most other top teams because he is a real nuisance to the opposition and has an ability to get you out of trouble time and again.

At Stamford Bridge, he dropped into the back four to make headed clearances on countless occasions - you could call him a sweeper for all positions.

I've not played against Fletcher in the modern game but he reminds me of Paul Scholes, even though they are quite different players from a stylistic perspective.

When people think of big players they think of the flair guys like Cristiano Ronaldo, but you ask the players who have played week in week out against Manchester United and they will say Scholes.

And it's the same with Fletcher. A lot of his work goes unnoticed and a lot of his qualities are not always bubbling over the top. But the key thing is that he is not unnoticed by his manager or team-mates and they are the ones who count.

The one criticism I would have of United on Sunday was their lack of quality from set-pieces, especially as full-time approached.

Chelsea didn't have a single corner - how many teams win a game without getting a corner at home? - whereas United had quite a few chances to put the ball in from corners and free-kicks but their service was poor.

They had four corners in the last 10 minutes and I don't think they knocked in one decent ball. Two were taken by the young substitute Gabriel Obertan which baffled me.

In the 84th minute a chance did fall to Valencia on the far side of the box from a Giggs corner but he shot wide. It's times like those that United miss Ronaldo - he probably would have scored from there.

Lee Dixon was talking to BBC Sport's David Ornstein.

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see also
Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd
08 Nov 09 |  Premier League
Ferguson in clear after ref blast
09 Nov 09 |  Premier League
Lee Dixon's tactical view
19 Oct 09 |  Premier League

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