How Did Chelsea's Players Rate Against Manchester United?
It's a victory that has sent shock waves through the race for a top-four spot in the Premier League and puts Chelsea back in the driving seat.
Just 24 hours earlier, priceless wins for Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal over Southampton and QPR, respectively, had heaped the pressure on the Blues ahead of their trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United.
But despite United recently being crowned Premier League champions, Rafa Benitez's side showed great character to answer any questions their rivals had posed them, winning 1-0 courtesy of Juan Mata's 87th-minute strike.
All three London clubs are battling it out for the two remaining Champions League spots for 2013-14, and with just two weeks of the season remaining, it's going down to the wire.
It was by no means a scintillating performance from Chelsea to seal this win; however, the Blues did just enough to ensure their Champions League fate remains in their own hands—especially as they face Spurs at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday when they could all but seal a top-four place.
But who were their heroes at the Theatre of Dreams yesterday? As they gear up for an epic face off with Spurs, Bleacher Report assesses the performance of the Chelsea players in Manchester.
Goalkeeper and Defenders
On an afternoon where the official stats showed Manchester United to have had four shots on target, it's difficult to recall Petr Cech being forced into action. He was as reliable as ever elsewhere, commanding the Blues penalty area with his usual authority, but given a limp performance from Manchester United, he had very little to do
Whoever replaces Rafa Benitez as Chelsea manager this summer will have the luxury of having two fine right-backs among their ranks. Branislav Ivanovic has made the position his own in the past few seasons, and this year has seen Cesar Azpilicueta come to the fore.
He had a quiet first half at Old Trafford but was an important figure late on as Chelsea turned the screw and eventually got the goal their efforts deserved.
He's long been billed throughout his career as one of the world's leading left-backs, and nothing has changed where Ashley Cole is concerned. Antonio Valencia had very little joy against him on Sunday with the United No .7 often having to track the Englishman's runs forward as opposed to being a danger in the Chelsea half.
Cole gives Chelsea so much on the left flank, and his return from injury has come at the perfect time as the Blues prepare for the final push to claim silverware and a Champions League spot.
There were two Serbian centre-backs on display at Old Trafford on Sunday with Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Vidic going head-to-head. Well, needless to say, it was the former who came out on top with Chelsea keeping a clean sheet, and the Blues No. 2 was a key part of that.
As the team celebrated victory with their traveling fans at the final whistle, Ivanovic bowed to Juan Mata in acknowledgement of his winning goal.
Given the season he has had, someone best bow to Ivanovic.
He's grabbed the headlines for his involvement in Rafael's sending off late on in the game, which is a shame as Chelsea's David Luiz had another fine performance on Sunday. He has gone from the joker in the pack to become the Blues' ace of spades in the past 12 months, and performances like this show just why. Ignoring his, shall we say "gamesmanship" at the end, he didn't put a foot wrong at Old Trafford.
Should he leave Chelsea in the summer, Frank Lampard has just four games remaining to equal—and then surpass—Bobby Tambling's long-standing goalscoring record at Chelsea.
Lampard is on 201 Chelsea goals with Tambling one ahead on 202. He's cutting it fine, and given his role in the team right now, it could very well pass him by. The 34-year-old is playing a lot deeper than we're used to seeing him, which meant he had little impact in the attacking third until late on at Old Trafford.
When Lampard did impose himself in that area, though, Chelsea looked far better for it, eventually scoring. This was a disciplined performance from the veteran, and, given all that he stands to gain should he at least equal Tambling's record, also outlined his professionalism in playing for the team's gains over his own.
For that, he must be applauded.
It's been an up-and-down season for Ramires—brilliant one moment, poor the next. It was a similar case on Sunday as he wasted good possession in attacking positions when United looked vulnerable on the counter.
That said, he showed a cool head to keep the ball moving ahead of Juan Mata's strike and grafted throughout despite his struggles elsewhere.
It has been an encouraging debut season for Victor Moses at Chelsea. Since joining from Wigan Athletic, he has showed his value to the Blues and did so again at Old Trafford. He should have done better when set up in the first half but blazed way over the bar from 25 yards with an effort that lacked composure.
That was one moment of very few that lacked quality for Moses, though, and he will be happy with a solid display that kept the Blues moving forward and reinforced their Champions League credentials.
Alongside Juan Mata, Oscar was a threat all afternoon for United. He was difficult to track and had a number of efforts on goal, with one tipped onto the upright by Anders Lindegaard before the United stopper recovered.
He is an exceptional talent and grabbed the assist for Mata's winner in the 87th minute.
When people discuss the Premier League's finest talents, Juan Mata is sometimes a name that doesn't instantly spring to mind. Whether it's his profile or some other unknown reason, it's one of football's mysteries as the Spaniard is simply sublime.
Everything he does smacks of class, and, without him, Chelsea are just not the same team.
If we want to criticize him, we could mention his aerial prowess as Frank Lampard set him up perfectly on Sunday to nod home beyond Anders Lindegaard, but he failed to connect with the ball as the goal beckoned.
He made up for that error, though, calmly slotting home the winner in the 87th minute.
Striker and Substitutes
It was a difficult afternoon for Demba Ba at Old Trafford on Sunday. The Senegalese international was isolated for large parts and was easily marshaled by Manchester United's back pairing of Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic.
He battled for supremacy, but, as the game developed, was often found out of position as he wandered for possession and looked to make an impression.
He will be benched against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, as per Rafa Benitez's rotation policy, and really needs to do better than this.
Fernando Torres (for Victor Moses)
When the Spaniard appeared from the bench, many thought it would be to partner Demba Ba through the middle. He didn't, however, sticking to the left wing.
It was somewhat of a surprise, but Torres did a good enough job out wide and stuck to his managers instructions to assist the Blues in claiming a valuable three points.
Nathan Ake (for Juan Mata)
It seems there isn't a week that goes without Nathan Ake being described as the future of Chelsea, and Rafa Benitez is clearly a man who has faith in his ability. With John Terry on the bench, Benitez could have very easily drafted in the Chelsea captain in the last few minutes to close the game out.
Rather, he turned to Ake in the 90th minute and threw him on to help shore things up in midfield. United didn't get any joy for what little time Ake featured, so, in that regard, it was a successful afternoon for the youngster.
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