Linesman’s blunder gifts Chelsea control of title

By on April 4, 2010

Drogba vs Man Utd

By Daniel Alston.

Chelsea took control of the Premiership race after clinching a 2-1 victory over Manchester United, with a little help from the linesman. With much of the build-up to this potential title decider focused on the appointment of penalty-happy referee Mike Dean, there was already sizable pressure on the officials before kick-off.

Manchester United began with the expected eleven following the injury to Wayne Rooney in midweek. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes bolstering the consistency of recent big-game players Darren Fletcher and Ji-Sung Park in midfield, while Dimitar Berbatov carried the burden of being the lone striker.

Chelsea in contrast, had the luxury of having their main striker – Didier Drogba – fit enough to make the bench. Eyebrows may have been raised at the inclusion of both Deco and Joe Cole adding to the goal threat of Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda, who is arguably in the form of his life. At the start of play though, Chelsea needed a result here, with United topping the table by a point and games quickly running out.

And with all that was riding on the game, perhaps nerves stopped the two sides from creating much in the opening stages.

Indeed it wasn’t until the 9th minute that the first real chance was created. Antonio Valencia, maybe fancying his chances against Yuri Zhirkov today, put a teasing cross into the box but Berbatov couldn’t direct his header goalwards.

Two minutes later, sloppiness at the back almost cost United as Nemanja Vidic failed to clear. Anelka took advantage feeding Joe Cole who mishit completely.

Chelsea very much took control of the game at this point, dominating in possession and keeping United’s attacks limited to hopeful balls. And on 19 minutes they took the lead.

The probing Malouda drove through midfield and entered the box ushered by Fletcher and Rio Ferdinand. He beat both to the byline and cut the ball across the 6-yard box. Up popped Jpoe Cole to cooly flick backwards into the net regardless of the presence of Patrice Evra.

1-0 Chelsea.

The onus was now on the home side then. A draw would maybe have been acceptable at the start of play for the Red Devils, especially after the result in Munich and with Chelsea fresh and rested.

And on 26 minutes, that draw could have been on the cards. Park knitting passes on the edge of the area was clearly felled by Zhirkov upon entry. Penalty appeals were waved away by referee Dean, prompting questions over whether the aforementioned pressure was a factor in his decision. Chelsea were denied a more debatable spot-kick later on, as Neville charged into Anelka. Maybe these things do even themselves out.

Chelsea continued to press, with frustration clearly growing within Old Trafford; Gary Neville and Scholes picking up yellow cards before the half-time whistle.

The partnership between Park and Berbatov continued to look dangerous, with the Korean feeding the Bulgarian hitman around the penalty spot. Instead of lashing at it with his left boot, Berbatov tried to turn to use his preferred right, but his delay meant that danger could be cleared.

Half-time came, and the hairdryer treatment undoubtedly made an appearance. Ancelotti on the other hand will have been happy with his team’s performance, and as such, there were no changes at the interval.

And it was the side in blue that almost scored the all-important next goal just minutes into the second half. Cole fed Ferreira, who was played onside by Neville. Evra was able to make up ground, but the United defence will have breathed a sigh of relief after the Chelsea full-back’s shot dragged wide of Van der Sar’s goal.

From here on in, the hosts took control of the game; Valencia and Neville crafting out crossed chances for Evra and Berbatov.

On 70 minutes, Anelka made way for Drogba and United knew that as much as they needed to attack, they would have to be equally effective at the back with the entrance of the Ivory Coast international.

On the offensive whilst not creating all too many clear chances, United controlled the midfield, with Deco and Cole entering the referee’s book for late challenges. Cole is replaced by Soloman Kalou shortly after, with Scholes and Giggs making way for Nani and last season’s bit-part hero Federico Macheda.

And on 79 minutes, it was effectively game over as the Chelsea substitues combined. Against the run of play, Kalou flicks the ball to Drogba who sends the ball home in typical fashion. Replays were then to show Drogba offside by at least a full yard, actually behind the last United defender.

2-0 Chelsea.

A killer blow to the reigning champions, but let up they did not. Almost immediately from the restart, Nani surged down the left and drove a low cross across Petr Cech’s goal. The Czech stopper could only parry upwards and into the incoming Macheda who bundled the ball home with a combination of chest and upper arm. John Terry’s appeals were in vain, as the next ten minutes promised relentless pressure from United.

2-1.

With this in mind, Deco comes off for the more defensive-minded Michael Ballack.

Tension runs around the ground, with Chelsea well aware of United’s last minute triumphs. Chances remain relatively few however, with Lampard striking just wide and United’s openings quashed by a resolute defence. In the midst, Fletcher picks up a booking for dissent and is then replaced by Darron Gibson and his long-range ability.

On the 90-minute mark, the chance for the hosts to draw level came. And with his shoulders heavily weighted in Rooney’s absence, it was made for Dimitar Berbatov to get the vital goal. Yet Gary Neville’s low cross was met with a volley driven into the ground, bouncing safely into Cech’s hands.

A surprising 4 minutes of injury time gifted no late drama, and the scoreline ended 2-1 to the visitors.

Now top of the table, Chelsea have one hand on the championship. Manchester United, possibly  feeling the after-effects of their crumbling in Europe, weren’t mentally in the tie from the first whistle, and maybe that is to blame for their defeat as much as the linesman’s costly mistake.

The run-in won’t be easy for either side, nor for Arsenal who remain right behind them. But as far as season deciders go, the fact that this is so close to the end may go further to pointing towards the ultimate winners than in some previous years.

United fans will be left cursing Drogba’s goal, but Chelsea could also argue Macheda’s was handled in. Regardless of the goals and lack of penalties given, the result was final and probably just, all in all. The home side dominated in the second half, but had already paid the price for not turning up in the first.

It’s set to be a close end to the campaign, with all 3 contenders separated by slender margins. Where do you think the trophy will end up? Will this result be the game where Chelsea stopped United’s quest for 4 titles in a row? Or can the Red Devils bounce back enough to snatch top spot back? Leave your opinions below…

2 Comments

  1. Bryan Ferri

    April 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    “Referee blunders cast a shadow over the game” would have been a much better title. The game at the Bridge earlier this season was a gift, Chelsea earned this one. Macheda’s slapped the ball in and Drogba was clearly offside; that leaves the score 0-1, and there were penalty calls turned down for each team. I really don’t think Drogba’s goal was really against the run of play too much, either.

  2. d

    April 4, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    well we will have to wait and see if chelsea win the title i think its between arsenal or man u cos chelsea bottle it near the end

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