After a disappointing performance in the Champions League mid week, United looked to continue their stunning league form with the visit of Chelsea. The corresponding fixture last season saw United all but clinch the title against the West London club, and were hoping for a similar result despite the many changes in personnel from that day. Having scored 18 goals in their previous 4 league games, it looked a formidable feat for Chelsea defenders John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic to keep out Wayne Rooney, who had notched seven goals already this campaign. Whilst at the other end, striker Fernando Torres was still struggling for form after his £50 million move from Liverpool in January, making the reds huge favourites to maintain their 100% record. Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Anderson and Javier Hernandez all returned to the starting line up after being rested in midweek, as Fergie returned to the formula which has served him so well this season.
With Chelsea fielding an attack minded line up and clearly out to take the initiative, United failed to assert themselves upon the game early on, with both the midfield duo Anderson and Fletcher gifting the ball away regularly and inviting Juan Mata dangerously onto our defence. It was united however who struck first largely against the run of play, as Ashley Young’s delightfully whipped in cross was met by the head of Chris Smalling who made no mistake in giving United the early lead. Despite leading, United still continued to struggle as Torres, Mata and Sturridge continued to torment the United defence, who were thankful to David De Gea for a brilliant save from Ramieres who appeared to have the goal at his mercy. At the other end, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez were enjoying very little of the ball as Chelsea were quick to close down and hassle the pair out of possession. True to form however, United found inspiration where there seemed none as winger Nani doubled United’s lead on 37 minutes with a spectacular thrunderbolt from 20 yards out into the top corner, after skipping by a couple of challenges. Having seemingly weathered the storm, United grew in confidence as half time approached as Chelsea heads began to drop in anticipation of a long afternoon. And things quickly got better for the reds, as they appeared to put the game to bed right on the stroke of half time courtesy of a rampaging Phil Jones run which culminated in a tap in for the in form Rooney who capped a perfect half for United.
With the game seemingly secured, United were left in limbo as to whether go for the jugular or to protect what was seemingly an unassailable lead. Indecision in this respect cost United immediately after the restart, as within 30 seconds Chelsea were back in the game through Torres, latching onto an Anelka through pass before lifting he ball over De Gea. With a route back into the match secured, Chelsea were swarming all over United and threatened to make it a very tense afternoon with Torres seemingly back into his confident stride that had been missing so glaringly. Again though, the game swung dramatically in United’s favour, as firstly Nani crashed his shot into the cross bar, only to be brought down by Bosingwa whilst collecting the rebound, gaining United a penalty and the perfect opportunity to bury Chelsea for good. Rooney however had failed to read the script, and blazed the spot kick miles wide after an unfortunate slip, as a tense Old Trafford faithful braced themselves for a nerve wracking finale. Ashley Cole was fortunate to not have conceded a second penalty after a rash and late lunge on Javier Hernandez, only for referee Phil Dowd to award the England defender a booking but no spot kick. An uncomfortable final 20 minutes ensued for the reds, as David De Gea was called into action in from Torres, blocking the Spaniard’s stinging effort well. In an end to end finale, United themselves had further opportunities, with first Rooney hitting the post, and then Berbatov narrowly missing Nani’s excellent cross in with the goal gaping.
Perhaps the defining point of the game came on 83 minutes, as with Chelsea knocking on the door, Torres found himself through on goal, round the stranded De Gea, only to somehow miss with an empty net at his mercy and consequently ending Chelsea’s realistic chance to get something from the game. There was still time for United to squander yet another glorious opportunity, after Wayne Rooney unselfishly squared for Berbatov, only for his shot to be scrambled off the line by Cole. The result however was secure, as United achieved back to back victories over Chelsea and propelled themselves back to the top of the league, 2 points clear of local rivals city. Next for the reds, the small matter of a trip to Elland Road.
De Gea – 7 Some excellent saves and good all round performance.
Smalling – 7 Well taken goal and handled the marauding Cole well.
Jones – 7 Another strong performance in a red shirt.
Evans – 6 Struggled with Torres’ excellent movement.
Evra – 8 One of his best performances in a long while.
Nani – 9 MOTM Simply stunning performance. Went past Cole at will, goal of the season to match.
Fletcher – 6 Wasteful in possession.
Anderson – 6 Never got into the game, easily overawed by Mata.
Young – 7 Willing runner and defender, superb delivery for 1st goal.
Rooney – 7 Not Rooney at his best, but still on the score sheet despite awful penalty miss.
Hernandez – 6 Ran tirelessly but easily dealt with by Terry.
Valencia – 7 Great tackling and a real asset as replacement RB
Berbatov – 6 Should have scored late on.
Carrick – 6 Stemmed the tide late on.