James Lawton: United's professional abdication should make hair-raising viewing as Ferguson plans ahead

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The Independent Football

Beyond the shock and the pain of Wayne Rooney's injury, there was a football match of some importance to consider, one that might just have been speaking about not the end of one Premiership campaign but the start of the next one.

Despite the awful distraction, some hard conclusions were not too elusive. Sir Alex Ferguson remains football's great propagandist. By comparison, Jose Mourinho was a painfully self-obsessed attention-grabber as he threw his jacket and medal into the crowd, but then let's try to be scrupulously fair.

In the crowning moments of Mourinho's second Premiership triumph, Ferguson would surely have traded a thousand brilliant barbs of psychological warfare for a hint in his own side of the kind of professional efficiency which carried Chelsea to such a comfortable, even, in its own way, masterful victory.

Fergie said that United were unlucky and that Chelsea were flattered by their 3-0 winning margin. But, of course, he would. One reason for Ferguson's astonishing record of success is that defeat has always been a tiresome imposter, something to banish as nothing more than a passing irritation.

However, embattled coaches in American gridiron football have a standard line when they are asked to analyse the heavier defeats. "I'll tell you what I think about our performance when I've seen the film," it goes. Ferguson might have been better off reaching for that option when he was asked how it was that Chelsea were so dominant in a match that, while unlikely to have any real significance for this title race, carried major implications for the next.

Certainly, if he looks again he is bound to see that in some vital areas this was a United video horror show.

Mikaël Silvestre's failure to maintain cover on William Gallas when he scored Chelsea's fifth-minute goal was appallingly lax, something that has to be ripped out of United's current persona if old competitive standards are to return.

Rio Ferdinand's light-headedness was also a disaster for United - and potentially for England in the World Cup. He sold himself desperately when Joe Cole cut through for Chelsea's second goal. When Ricardo Carvalho covered the length of the field to smash in the third, Ferdinand went missing along with the rest of the defence he is supposed to lead with a brilliant touch and genuine authority.

Ferguson's would not have wanted to dwell for a second on the effort of Cristiano Ronaldo. When the increasingly irrelevant young Portuguese sent a free-kick soaring way above the Chelsea goal - an astounding breakdown in technique in one of the world's most talented young players - Ferguson swore with some vehemence in the United dug-out. That anger would surely be redoubled if Ferguson broke down Ronaldo's entire performance. It was the worst-case scenario for a manager looking for a heightened display in an important match: it was irresponsible in its near absolute abandonment of professional standards.

To add to Ferguson's grief, Ryan Giggs' hard work could not disguise the lightweight nature of United's midfield. Mourinho's heavy mob of Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele and Michael Essien simply ate up Giggs and John O'Shea.

There were other problems. United never relaxed into their old, pleasing rhythms and it was not the least poignancy that their only serious chance flowed entirely from the bite and creativity of the soon-stricken Rooney. He played himself clear of the Chelsea cover and seemed certain to score, but he snatched at his shot. It was the prelude to an unimaginable blow.

If Rooney had scored, and then avoided injury, who knows, United might have found the impetus to make more of a challenge, but again we are back in the propaganda department. What happened on the field said that Chelsea, for all their recent embarrassments and the dulled sense that they are a team of unbreakable momentum, will have to start hugely hot favourites to complete a third straight title win. They displayed professional values that United too often failed to touch.

Naturally, Mourinho snatched another bout of self-absorption from the jaws of a superb team effort. He told us that he had twice considered leaving Stamford Bridge because it was such a hard club to manage, notwithstanding his capacity to fork out £72m on three players, and then he complained about winning the Manager of the Month award on a mere two occasions. Somehow, a roomful of listeners resisted the urge to hand him a hanky.

Of course we were knee-deep in propaganda again. Ferguson does it with a relentless confidence that he can hit someone else's weak spot or cover up one of his own. Mourinho does it like a refugee from a rich kid's playpen. But, if football was the real test, you had to say he won hands down.

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