Reasons to be cheerful

Peering through the bare facts of a third consecutive defeat at Old Trafford may at first seem to offer little consolation to Chelsea.

But if ever there was a case of putting an optimistic slant on a painful defeat, then surely it came in Sunday’s 3-1 reverse against the reigning champions.

It’s tricky not to sound bitter bemoaning two “offside goals” and a fortunate third while lamenting a number of missed chances, notably a Ramires effort and of course Fernando Torres’ bewildering empty-net blunder.

United’s display, in an enthralling match, was full of pace, power, skill and some clinical finishing.

Their preferred 4-4-2 formation once again ultimately proved the difference against Chelsea, exposing a lack of width with incisive counter-attacking and taking their opportunities in clinical fashion.

But – and this shows how good United are – they will certainly play better than that this season and lose.

In contrast, Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas will see his side play about half as well and win at a canter in the coming months.

“Mata has made a telling contribution already and there is the promise of much more to come.”

However, among the doom and gloom of a result that means Chelsea are already five points behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, two Spaniards (yes, one of which was Torres) and two Portuguese give plenty of cause to look forward with confidence.

The first Spaniard, the much-maligned Torres, was excellent throughout; he was aggressive, prepared to run at the back four and take people on, showed good skill with the ball at his feet, got on the end of several good chances, made a couple for himself and also teed up an opening or two.

Torres looked every bit a world-class player, and scored a wonderful goal. Unfortunately his game will be remembered by most for his catastrophic miss. More unfortunately, you can understand why…it was as bad a miss as you are ever likely to see.

The second Spaniard, Juan Mata, while nowhere near as headline-grabbing as his international colleague, is having a massive impact.

Mata’s arrival in English football seems to have passed with a relative lack of interest outside of Stamford Bridge because of the furore surrounding the Manchester clubs.

Add to that Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal wobbles, the usual can they/will they title-challenge talk at Anfield, the Torres factor and Didier Drogba debate, and you can understand why the frighteningly gifted, nimble-footed – and equally nimble-minded – midfielder has almost slipped off the radar.

But Mata has made a telling contribution already and there is the promise of much more to come.

Despite his blunder, Torres showed signs of his quality against United

Forget the goals, the classily taken debut strike in his brief cameo appearance off the bench in the 3-1 win over Norwich and the straightforward, but composed, close-range finish against Bayer Leverkusen.  Forget too the assist via the crafty free-kick against the post in the win at Sunderland.

His willingness to accept the ball no matter how tightly marked, his ability to make full use of it and pick a pass, and crucially his skill in sparking the play with one-touch precision is what Chelsea needed.

Chelsea have often been accused of being ponderous and lacking the urgency in the final third. Mata provides that urgency, enabled to do so by the energy and drive of Ramires and the clever link-up play of Raul Miereles.

John Mikel Obi, talented as he is, can sometimes seem to slow the play, whereas Meireles could never be accused of being laboured in possession.

And while it would be ludicrous – bordering on offensive to many Blues fans – to compare the Portuguese midfielder to the legend that is Gianfranco Zola, his influence on the team could be such that in five years’ time, it’s a comparison that sits comfortably.  He is a player that sets the tone for the way a team plays.

Meanwhile, the second Portuguese – the manager – seemed relatively happy in defeat, knowing his side is beginning to show the confidence he oozes and knowing, that in Torres he has a cutting edge suitable for the style of play he wants to introduce.

And also, that in Meireles and Mata, he has the platform and creative spark to provide for his £50m striker.