The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
As always, it was a little surreal. How can so much ill temper coexist with so much twinkle and dash? Moment after moment, the play—from Park Ji-Sung, from Evra, from Joe Cole, from Ronaldo, even from Lampard and Giggs—looked sprinkled with pixie dust, yet unraveled into futile shoving and hacking. Drogba, who can play against most teams without assaulting anything but the national currency, spends two minutes around Manchester United and becomes a one-man Jonny-Evans-bowling-into machine. Joe Cole can pirouette like a wounded TIE fighter, but put him in the box near Rooney and he can’t help sliding in like an unwanted bicycle ramp.
The epitome of this contradiction, of course, was Rooney himself, a player whose jaw sometimes seems to be permanently unhinged with rage (it dreamily occurred to me, during the Grendel stomp-and-bellow routine he put on after Man Utd’s first goal was ruled out, that I wouldn’t be shocked if he swallows a whole stadium one day), yet who still managed to score a goal that was actually kind of witty, sneaking his foot between Ashley Cole’s legs to knock Evra’s cross into the net.
United were about as much better than Chelsea as the scoreline suggests, all in all, and if you don’t think they’re the favorites to win the title at this point in the season, you don’t want to think they’re the favorites to win the title at this point in the season. Chelsea played well, actually, for long stretches of the first half and for short stretches of the second half, but they never got the ball into a dangerous position without Drogba mistaking it for a pound coin or Ballack softly heading it away. (Ballack has games in which he seems to be brilliantly playing some sport other than football, and it was one of those today. ) And without the ball, John Terry’s sliding save on Park aside, they were hapless, repeatedly letting Man Utd players go unmarked on set pieces, milling around in alarmed confusion like ants around a dead ant.
They’ve taken all of 10 points from their last eight games. It’s a good thing Roman Abramovich no longer cares about Chelsea, or someone (I’m thinking of you, Phil Scolari) would be getting a sour, thin-lipped, quavery, vaguely nauseous stare of disapproval tonight.
by Brian Phillips · January 11, 2009