United threw men forward in search of an equaliser, but Chelsea defended resolutely and five minutes of stoppage time wasn't enough for Manchester United to grab a goal.
The visitors had the best of possession in the opening minutes, but it was Chelsea that created the first chance of the game. Branislav Ivanovic broke down the right flank and drove into the United penalty area. The Serbian's cross was blocked, but he recovered possession and drilled a shot towards the far post. Edwin van der Sar got down quickly to his right and made a comfortable save.
Wayne Rooney almost broke the Chelsea offside trap high up the field in the eighth minute, but the Liverpudlian went a fraction too early and was flagged offside. Ashley Cole managed to step up just in time to prevent a one-on-one with Petr Cech.
Rooney was involved again minutes later as he received the ball with his back to goal in the left-hand side of the Chelsea penalty area. Marked by Ricardo Carvalho, the Englishman turned quickly onto his left foot and smashed a shot goal wards that went wide at the near post.
United began to exert more influence on the game.
Antonio Valencia slid in to steal the ball from Cole in the Chelsea half and it skidded to Rooney. The Englishman then slipped Valencia into the channel and the Ecuadorian took on John Terry to enter the penalty area.
Chelsea's captain looked to be struggling and barged into Valencia, both players fell to the ground with Terry clutching a chunk of Valencia's shirt, but the referee signalled for a goal kick as the Red Devil glared at the assistant on the touchline.
Chelsea got a number of crosses into the penalty area as the game unfolded, but the quality of distribution was disappointing. This was epitomised by a Frank Lampard free-kick on the left in the 23rd minute that fizzed over the crowd in the box and went out for a goal kick.
The Blues did improve later in the half and forced a good save from Van der Sar on the 30 minute mark.
Anelka picked the ball up on the right flank, cut inside his marker, and quickly unleashed a stinging drive that was headed for the far corner. The Dutch 'keeper appeared to see the shot late but managed to meet the ball with an outstretched palm.
Manchester United seemed happy to accept this pressure and spring on the counter-attack. Rooney had two good opportunities on the break, the second of which saw the Englishman released into space on the left. Anderson had made a good run in the middle, but Rooney elected to take the shot on himself as he came inside and his effort was blocked. Valencia was standing by himself on the edge of the box.
Didier Drogba had an opportunity towards the end of the first half.
The Ivorian backed into Patrice Evra on the edge of the penalty area, turned the Frenchman, and ran into the penalty area to meet Deco's through ball. Drogba shot with his first touch and lashed his attempt high of wide of the United goal.
Manchester United created a decent opening at the start of the second half, Rooney held the ball up on the edge of the penalty area and squared to Darren Fletcher who was making ground to his right. The Scotsman let fly with his right foot but his shot squirmed over the crossbar.
The Red Devils opened up Chelsea moments later as they worked the ball on the edge of the box. Rooney fed the ball to Ryan Giggs who was unmarked on the left. The Welshman took a touch and opted to dink a cross towards the back post, but his pass was over hit and went out for a goal kick.
Fletcher had another shooting opportunity with just under 60 minutes gone. United played their way through the Chelsea midfield with a series of neat passes, Fletcher made a darting run towards the penalty area and was presented with possession. The Scottish international put his foot through the ball from 20 yards, but Carvalho was on hand with an excellent block to deny the chance.
In an effort to rejuvenate his side, Carlo Ancelotti brought off Deco and replaced him with Joe Cole. It didn't stem the tide initially as Rooney hit a thunderous strike from the edge of the box that missed the target by inches.
Rooney had the next chance of the game as he turned away from the Chelsea defence on the edge of the box on yet another occasion. The English forward tried to pick his spot in the top right-hand corner but didn't quite get enough power in the strike and Cech saved comfortably.
Drogba caught an accidental but hefty blow in the chest as he closed down Jonny Evans in the 72nd minute. The Ivorian collected a yellow card for his troubles.
Chelsea took the lead minutes later, Fletcher conceded a foul on the left wing and Lampard floated a brilliant goal into the penalty area. The cross was met with a flick header by Terry and the ball zipped into the bottom right-hand corner, 1-0 to Chelsea.
United were furious because they thought the referee was wrong to award the initial infringement. Rooney was booked for his protestations.
Sir Alex Ferguson responded by throwing on Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen, who replaced Anderson and Giggs for the Red Devils with five minutes to go. They couldn't inspire United to victory, though, as Chelsea held out for the win.
Chelsea are now five points clear of Manchester United, who were usurped in the table by Arsenal following their victory against Wolves yesterday.
This article was first published on Goal.com