Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Chelsea 2 - 1 Man Utd

Chelsea kept their faint Premier League title hopes alive and damaged Manchester United's own ambitions as they came from behind to beat the leaders at Stamford Bridge.United looked well set to extend their lead over Arsenal after Wayne Rooney - who Sir Alex Ferguson admitted was fortunate to be playing after escaping further punishment for elbowing Wigan's James McCarthy on Saturday - gave them a deserved interval advantage.Chelsea, who left Didier Drogba on the bench as coach Carlo Ancelotti favoured Fernando Torres, staged a stirring fightback to keep United in their sights on a night when nothing other than victory would have kept them in contention.
David Luiz volleyed the equaliser early in the second half and Frank Lampard's disputed penalty secured three priceless points ten minutes from time after Chelsea substitute Yuri Zhirkov clashed with Chris Smalling.
Ferguson was incensed as referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot - and United's sense of injustice deepened when Nemanja Vidic was sent off in stoppage time after receiving a second yellow card for a foul on Ramires, ruling him out of the visit to Liverpool on Sunday.
Luiz was Chelsea's stand-out performer, although Ferguson also had a case when he questioned how the £21m defender escaped a red card after the break for a hack at Rooney having already been booked.
This was a wonderful advert for the Premier League with both Chelsea and United intent on all-out attack - but Ferguson will be concerned at how his side lost their way after controlling much of the first period imperiously.
Chelsea remain rank outsiders to retain their crown and still lie 12 points adrift of United, but Ancelotti will regard this as a performance that supports his insistence that they can still have a say when the major prizes are handed out this season.
United boss Ferguson named an unchanged line-up for the first time in 165 games - and his faith in the players who won 4-0 at Wigan Athletic was amply rewarded with a hugely impressive first-half performance.
Chelsea opened brightly, with Torres prominent, and Florent Malouda should have done better than shoot straight at Edwin van der Sar from the edge of the area after being played in by Nicolas Anelka.
United, however, settled swiftly to their task and Patrice Evra exchanged passes with Javier Hernandez before just failing in an attempt to find the unmarked Rooney at the far post.
Rooney's every touch was jeered by Chelsea's fans, who revelled in a header that flew wildly off target before erupting in fury when he barged Ramires to the ground - but the taunts were to be silenced in emphatic fashion on the half hour.
He collected possession from Nani before sending a low, powerful drive past Petr Cech, from 20 yards before celebrating in front of Chelsea's fans in the Matthew Harding Stand.
Chelsea's early momentum had all but disappeared as United controlled affairs in midfield while keeping the threat of Torres and Anelka under control after their early promise, although it took fine work from Van der Sar to prevent them drawing level six minutes before half-time.
Lampard's free-kick was pushed out by the United keeper, who recovered brilliantly to claw away the loose ball as Branislav Ivanovic attempted to bundle the rebound over the line.
Chelsea needed a quick response and it came within nine minutes of the restart when Ivanovic touched on Michael Essien's corner for Luiz to send a thunderous volley low past the motionless Van der Sar.
With the game thrown wide open, both managers made positive changes as Ancelotti sent on Drogba for Anelka and Ferguson replaced Javier Hernandez and Paul Scholes with Dimitar Berbatov and Ryan Giggs.
Chelsea look to have acquired an outstanding talent in Luiz but there are still rough edges to be smoothed out and he was fortunate to stay on the pitch after crudely clattering Rooney having already been booked.
Ferguson remonstrated furiously with the officials in the aftermath of that challenge - and his mood darkened even further when Chelsea were awarded a penalty after Zhirkov tangled with Smalling in the 80th minute.
The young defender clearly felt he could not avoid Zhirkov but the protests were all to no avail as Lampard slammed the penalty past Van der Sar.
And Zhirkov nearly added the third almost immediately with a shot from the edge of the area that was unwittingly deflected on to an upright by Vidic.
United's evening then ended on a desperate note as Vidic pulled Ramires back on the edge of the area and was sent off - meaning his removal from the defence for the testing trip to Anfield.

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