[HIGHLIGHTS] Chelsea 2 United 1: Reds Suffer Title Blow At the Bridge
In a must win Barclays Premier League match for both clubs, Manchester United stumbled to another defeat at Stamford Bridge losing 2-1 to Chelsea. Wayne Rooney put the Reds into the lead after 30 minutes, but one of Chelsea’s big money January signings, David Luiz, equalized just 10 minutes into the second half and then Frank Lampard smashed home a penalty to give the Blues all three points. The result sees United’s four-point lead at the top of the table stand over Arsenal, however, the Gunners could cut the Reds’ advantage to just a single point if they win their match-in-hand.
For the first time since March of 2008, a stretch of 167 games, Sir Alex Ferguson named an unchanged United line-up from the previous game, which was all hinged on the fact that Wayne Rooney avoided a minimum three-game suspension following his inexcusable elbow in the Reds’ win over Wigan Athletic at the weekend.
This particular starting XI offers Sir Alex the unique ability to play either the favored 4-4-2, or a variation of the 4-5-1 formation, which will either counteract Chelsea’s overloading the center of the midfield, or expose their off-balanced midfield. The biggest surprise came, though, with the selection of Javier Hernandez to start the match ahead of Dimitar Berbatov, but Ferguson must have been thinking that the youngster’s pace could certainly challenge Chelsea’s back-four over the Bulgarian’s creativity.
Like against Wigan, Chelsea earned the first corner of the match within a minute of the start of the match, and even though Fernando Torres fired the ball into the net, the whistle had gone for a foul inside the penalty area. Despite their fifth place league position, the Blues were the ones asking all of the questions, and a few minutes later they should have really scored.
Flourent Malouda, who was donning a new hair style, should have opened the scoring, but he scuffed Nicolas Anelka’s perfectly placed cut-back cross directly at Edwin van der Sar from just inside of the United penalty area. Malouda dispossessed Scholes and squared a pass to Michael Essien, but the Ghanaian’s shot took a massive deflection and out for a corner kick, which John Terry headed just over the United cross bar.
Ramires was a lucky boy to only receive a yellow card for a wild lunge on Michael Carrick, but Martin Atkinson aired on the side of caution, literally, to spare the Chelsea midfielder an early bath. Some great passing led to the best glimpse of goal for United. Hernandez side-stepped David Luiz, and played a great through ball for Patrice Evra to run on to, but, instead of shooting, the left-back sent a teasing pass across the face of the Chelsea goal, which was just a half-yard too far for Rooney to get on the end of.
The over hit ball was reached by Darren Fletcher, but his cross was blocked out well by Chelsea, and the Blues hit United with a raking counterattack, but Anelka could not fired well wide in the end. Some more great work down the United left flank saw Nani whip in a great cross, which should have worked Peter Cech, but Rooney took his eye off of the ball, and it bounced off his shoulder and out for a his goal kick.
A careless pass from Terry enabled United to break forward with numbers, but David Luiz did ever so well to get on the end of Fletcher’s curling cross with Chicharito waiting for to tap the ball in. United started to step it up a gear with their pressure, and they were rewarded with the opening goal.
Rooney received the ball from Nani with his back to goal, and the Chelsea defenders allowed him to turn, and the forward made them pay as he drilled his shot just inside of Cech’s near post to give United the lead on the half-hour mark. The game was already being played wide-open, but it was given a little bit of spice when Nani squared up to Branislav Ivanovic head-to-head to show that he would not be badgered by the Chelsea full-back.
Terry was deemed to have fouled Chicharito by the referee, and Nani’s ensuing free-kick was met by Rooney, but his flicked header was well claimed by Cech. In a very similar instance to how Chelsea scored last season, Torres earned a cheap free-kick against Evra on the left flank, about 25-yards from goal, and how they did not score was simply amazing.
Lampard drilled the ball through the United penalty, but three different interventions by van der Sar and a last-ditch, goal line clearance by Vidic denied Ivanovic a quite certain equalizer. United cleared the ball out, but it made its way back to Lampard, but he went for placement over power and van der Sar got down well to his left to save.
On the stroke of halftime, Essien made one of his trademark driving runs through the midfield, and when he was about to burst into the United penalty area, but Vidic, with no other viable option, had to challenged him unfairly and, rightfully, earned a yellow card for his smart decision. For some odd reason though, it was Ashley Cole who took the resulting free-kick, but his shot, pun intended, lacked the pace and accuracy as it curled over van der Sar’s cross bar.
Neither manager made any changes at the break, and there was no question that Chelsea had to score and score twice, so the second half should be mouthwatering stuff. Some very good passing by United ended with Carrick lofting a pass over the Chelsea defense towards Rooney, but his pass was an inch or two high of its target and Cech claimed it.
Silly challenge by Scholes on Anelka gave Chelsea a free-kick 35-yards from goal, and Lampard hit another low, stinging drive, but, this time around, it only required one save from van der Sar. Some more fantastic strength and determination from Evra down the left wing, gave another chance for Rooney to test his shooting ability, but his bending effort ended a few yards wide of the far post.
Chelsea was asking more questions of United, and the Blues were level in the 54th minute. A poor clearance from Chris Smalling allowed Chelsea to whip in another cross, which was flicked on by Ivanovic and David Luiz smashed the ball into the bottom corner.
How United did not earn a free-kick and David Luiz pick up a yellow card is quite baffling after he body checked Chicharito when the Reds were attacking. Anelka slipped passed Fletcher and decided to shoot from 35-yards out, and his shot, which was going wide of the near post, took a deflection on its way through and van der Sar did well to save.
Finally, Martin Atkinson booked David Luiz after he slammed through the back of Rooney, and the stoppage in play allowed Chelsea to make a change with Didier Drogba coming on for Anelka for the last half hour. United had a very good passing movement down the right, and the ball ended up in the Chelsea net, but it was correctly ruled out for offside on Rooney.
Moments later, Nani played a great ball to Rooney to send him clean through into the Chelsea area, but he was caught in two minds and wasted the glorious opportunity. At the other end, a mistake by O’Shea allowed Malouda a chance to break into the United area, but Vidic closed him done well and Smalling headed away his lofted cross away from the immediate danger.
Sir Alex decided on two offensive-minded changes with Ryan Giggs, who matched Sir Bobby Charlton’s league appearance record of 606 for United, and Dimitar Berbatov given 20 minutes to stamp their authority on the match replacing Scholes and Chicharito, respectively. Drogba earned Chelsea a corner kick, which Lampard sent in towards the six-yard box, but Ivanovic unexpectedly scooped his shot out for United goal kick.
Vidic fouled Drogba 35-yards away from the United goal, but the out-of-favor forward took the free-kick himself and it flew just wide yards high and wide of the target. Essien picked up Chelsea’s second yellow card of the match for a tasty challenge on Evra. Giggs scooped the ball over the top of the Chelsea defense which the two goal scorers raced for, and Rooney got the best of him, but his powerful shot was blocked well by Cech.
Then, in another off the ball incident, Rooney was wiped completely out by David Luiz, who was already on a yellow, and if Atkinson saw it he would have been certainly sent off. Then Yuri Zhirkov, who came on for Malouda, was tumbled over by Smalling and Atkinson awarded a penalty to Chelsea. Lampard stepped up to take the penalty kick and smashed it straight down the middle to give Chelsea the lead.
The managers made their final changes and Carlo Ancelotti noticed that David Luiz was riding a fine line, so he replaced him with Jose Bosingwa, and Sir Alex brought on From a corner, Zhirkov struck a stinging volley that was destined for the net, but the slightest of touches from Vidic saw the ball strike the off the post and out for a corner.
United got forward and earned a corner kick, and the two United subs almost worked it perfectly, but Cech denied the Bulgarian and Giggs’ second effort was well held by the Chelsea goalkeeper. The Reds started pressing forward looking for an equalizer, but Cech denied Fabio after the young Brazilian got passed Bosingwa. With just four minutes of injury time to be played, Chelsea a couple of free-kicks, which killed priceless minute off the clock.
To add insult to injury, Vidic was given his marching orders after he tugged down Ramires after he was beaten for pace. The loss to Chelsea was a devastating blow to Manchester United’s lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League table, but the response from this type of loss are really what determines the heart of a champion.
Even though the Reds tasted defeat and he was sent off for two bookable offenses, Nemanja Vidic continued to show just how vital his contributions are to United’s objectives.
E. van der Sar – 8; J. O’Shea – 5, C. Smalling – 6, N. Vidic – 8, P. Evra – 6 (Fabio – 5); D. Fletcher – 5, M. Carrick – 7, P. Scholes – 6 (R. Giggs – 6), Nani – 5, W. Rooney – 6; J. Hernandez – 6 (D. Berbatov – 5)
W. Rooney (30′)
Shots (On Target): 9 (2)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 14 (10)
Bookings: N. Vidic 2 – sent off, R. Giggs,