Possibly the biggest match of United's season and their toughest test to date. After the cancellation of their previous premier league fixture due to bad weather, we were finally able to see last season's League Champions in action against the dethroned Champions.
Going into this game United hadn't won at Stamford Bridge for nine years, and with United having played two games in the last seven days compared to Chelsea's one, the odds were seemingly against the away side. With furore surrounding both Rooney's escaping punishment for his elbow, and Cole's accidental shooting, it would be interesting to see how each player performed.
For the starting lineups Ferguson opted for the slightly in-form Chicharito and the recovering Rooney over this season's top scorer, Berbatov. Another sign that he places little-to-no faith in the Bulgarian, much to this author's chagrin. Ancelotti oddly decided to pair the massively out-of-form Torres with Anelka, who has scored 16 total. Not surprisingly he also kept Cole in the starting lineup. I'm personally not a fan of Chelsea, but I do believe Cole to be one of the best left backs in the world.
Chelsea started off well and even managed to put the ball in the back of the net within a minute. Unfortunately for them a foul was given on Vidic. For the next 25 minutes the game was pretty even, with both sides having their share of attacks and forcing a few saves from Van Der Sar and Cech.
However, United had been rather careless in possession and didn't quite have their game faces on. In the 29th minute it would go United's way. Rooney collected a pass from Nani and drilled it in to the bottom corner from 25 yards out.
It looked like Fergie's gamble would pay off after all. With only one more chance from Chelsea before halftime we went into the break, advantage: United.
With no changes at halftime, it was up to the words of either manager to spur their team to victory. With only one chance coming the second half began was a rather lacklustre affair.
This was all about to change in the 53rd minute when United failed to clear a loose ball on the edge of the box. David Luiz, a defender with only five goals to his name in his career so far, rifled in a volley from the edge of the box that VDS was helpless to save. A stunning volley, and from a defender of all people.
This goal appeared enough to spur on the Stamford Bridge faithful and players alike. In the 60th minute Drogba replaced Anelka, and in the 70th Berbatov replaced Chicharito. Since the goal, Chelsea were rejuvenated and continued the hunt for a second.
With less than 15 minutes to go, United needed to pull something special out of the bag. With their poor form away, in the last 15 minutes in particular, and a Chelsea side looking ever closer to scoring, this was looking increasingly unlikely. The momentum, luckily, shifted United's way for a few moments with Giggs and Rooney pulling saves out of Cech.
With 11 minutes left to go, Zhirkov raced into the box and went down over Smallings outstretched leg. Although replays showed otherwise, a penalty was given. With United increasingly being said to have the favour of referees, it looked like the ball was on the other foot. Lampard confidently drilled the ball into the United goal.
The only further thing of note to happen in the game was Vidic being sent off for a second yellow card, meaning he will miss the must-win game at Liverpool on Sunday, a dreaded away game as well.
Unfortunately for us United fans, defeat means spurning a chance to gain a larger advantage over Arsenal, now having played one more game. With Arsenal having the chance to come to within a point of the league leaders, the game at Anfield is a definite must-win if they are to regain the title. Luckily, Chelsea are too far behind in points for the victory to bring them too much closer. With the return game being played at Old Trafford in May, there may be a chance for revenge.
Quite simply, Chelsea were the better side and deserved their victory.
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