Chelsea suffered defeat for the first time in the Premier League this season as Manchester United claimed victory in an absorbing encounter at Stamford Bridge that was riddled with controversy.
The Blues got off to the worst possible start when Robin van Persie’s shot after three minutes rebounded off the post and hit David Luiz before bouncing in. Matters were made worse for Roberto Di Matteo’s men when van Persie doubled United’s lead after 12 minutes. Chelsea bore down on David de Gea’s goal in a bid to restore parity and Juan Mata’s delightful free-kick pulled one back moments before half-time.
Ramires rose highest in the second half to complete the comeback but Javier Hernandez had the final word when he turned in from close range, although replays showed the Mexican was in an offside position.
That wasn’t the only controversial moment in a game that over-spilled with drama from first whistle to last. Branislav Ivanovich and Fernando Torres both saw red as Chelsea finished the game with just nine men. After the game Chelsea launched a complaint to the FA regarding “inappropriate language” used by referee Mark Clattenburg to two of Chelsea’s players, whilst a steward was left injured and in need of treatment following objects being thrown onto the pitch.
Chelsea made two changes from their midweek defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, with Gary Cahill coming in for the suspended John Terry and Frank Lampard- who limped off in Ukraine- replaced by Eden Hazard. The visitors welcomed back Ashley Young after weeks out with injury and the attacking quartet of Young, Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and van Persie troubled Chelsea in the early stages.
A laid back Luiz carelessly gave away possession in his own half and Young released Rooney down the right. The England international’s cross was met by van Persie who was unfortunate to see his shot rebound off the post. Similarly, Luiz was unfortunate that the ball hit him on the back before he had chance to react and could only turn and watch it bobble over the line.
Things got worse for the home side on 17 minutes when van Persie doubled United’s lead. Again the visitors attacked via Chelsea’s left side, this time Valencia impressed with a tricky run before crossing for the ex-Arsenal favourite to hammer home with an unstoppable finish. It was a slow start for the Blues whose unbeaten league status was seriously under threat, but Chelsea managed to steady the ship before sinking further into misery.
United keeper de Gea produced a series of saves that ensured the deficit remained, saving in bizarre fashion from Luiz’s free kick with an outstretched leg. The Spaniard later saved well from a Cahill header and showed quick reactions to get a hand to Torres’ headed effort. But Chelsea were not to be denied as Mata- who has been in sparkling form for his club- produced a moment of magic, curling a free-kick beyond de Gea just a minute before half-time after Hazard was recklessly brought down by Rooney.
Chelsea continued to impress in the second half with Mata going close before the equaliser on 53 minutes. Ramires- hardly the tallest player on the park- out-jumped his marker to brilliantly convert from 6-yards. It was a deserved equaliser, Chelsea demonstrating the attacking verve that has seen them rise highest so far in the league but this was compromised when Ivanovich was sent off for a professional foul on Young. The winger raced clean through before being tripped by the recovering Serb and the defender can have no complaints as he found himself the last man.
Even with 10 men Chelsea stayed true to their fluid philosphy and probed for a winner that would propel them seven points clear of United. But the task was made near impossible when Torres saw the same fate as his Serbian team mate. The Spaniard received a yellow card for a high and dangerous challenge on Tom Cleverly before he was given his marching orders for a second yellow card offence. Chelsea’s number nine skipped passed Jonny Evans just outside the box and fell to ground, only to see the ominous figure of referee Clattenburg stood over him with a yellow and then red card. Replays showed that contact was made, giving good cause for Di Matteo’s side to feel hard done by.
With just nine men Chelsea’s task became near impossible as they looked to protect a point that would still keep second placed United at arms length. However Sir Alex Ferguson’s men pressed for a valuable winner and the extra two men told by the end of the game as Hernandez- as he did so with the late equaliser in the same fixture last season- popped up in the right place to turn home from close range. There was controversy again as Clattenburg and his officials failed to flag Hernandez who was in an offside position when the ball was drilled across goal and the game was left with a sour taste in the mouth as objects were thrown onto the pitch as United celebrated.
It is a shame that the game will be remembered for it’s officiating rather than the pulsating game of football between two of England’s finest teams. Chelsea will have good reason to feel aggrieved with certain decisions and it is believed a formal complaint has been lodged by the club concerning language used by Clattenburg to two players (one believed to be John Obi Mikel). The jeers that rang out at full-time could only be directed at the referee, but United took advantage of some sloppy defending early on to cut the league deficit to just one point. League champions should not give away 2-goal head starts to their main title rivals.
What are your thoughts on the match? Please get involved in the comments section.
Fancy a flutter on the game? Claim your £10 welcome bonus at Sky Bet and enjoy some of the best match odds in the business.