Having closed the gap in the title race in midweek, United travelled to Stamford Bridge, a ground where United have traditionally struggled, looking to keep up the pressure on City at the top of the table as the season comes towards it’s pivotal stage. With United failing to beat Chelsea at the Bridge for the best part of a decade, the omens were not good for a much needed United result, and an injury blow to Chris Smalling further dented an already injury hampered squad. However, Ashley Young returned to the side for his first appearance since the 5-0 demolition of Fulham in December, with Wayne Rooney also boosting the reds with his return from injury to alleviate the pressure on Danny Welbeck at the heart of United’s attack.
Having already put in some big performances away from home since the turn of the year, mainly at City, Arsenal and Liverpool (albeit without a win), United would again need to perform at their best in order to see off what in truth has been an inconsistent Chelsea side. Gary Cahill making his Chelsea debut was fortunate to not have been reprimanded for a mistimed lunge on Danny Welbeck on the edge of the box in the opening minutes, in what became a busy game for referee Howard Webb. In a game of very few chances, it was the home side who struck first, as Daniel Sturridge sold Patrice Evra the inside channel, before quickly turning outside and his square ball was inadvertently diverted into the back of the net via a combination of David De Gea and Jonny Evans, the latter credited with the own goal. The goal sparked United into life, and looked favourites to draw level as the half came to a close, with Welbeck’s strike well saved by Petr Cech, and the reds applying a prolonged spell of pressure on the Chelsea goal. Despite going in a goal down at half time, United looked the more likely to score throughout the half, and with Chelsea fragile defensively, the door remained firmly open for a United fight back.
Sloppy defending has cost the reds dear many times this season, and no more so when just 25 seconds from the restart, Fernando Torres’ cross found Juan Mata at the back post, allowing the Spaniard time to emphatically volley home and leave a mountain to climb for the visitors. Things went from bad to worse, as just minutes later, a Mata free kick was diverted home via the head of the unmarked David Luiz, leaving United looking down the barrel of another heavy deficit. Cue United comeback. Patrice Evra’s storming run was halted illegally by Daniel Sturridge on the hour mark, handing reds their 3rd penalty of the week, Rooney emphatically dispatched it and gave the reds a much needed lifeline. As Chelsea retreated, United grew in confidence and belief, inevitably they found the second, this time Ivanovic’s mis timed lunge on Danny Welbeck earning United the penalty, again, no mistake from the inspired Rooney who sent Cech the wrong way for the second time and set up a nail biting finale.
As Chelsea legs and minds crumbled, United seized the initiative, and it seemed an equaliser was inevitable. Fernando Torres could have halted the comeback on 80 minutes, the Spanish front man twisting well in the box, but failing to get his shot off in time allowing Antonio Valencia to intervene. Just 4 minutes later, the comeback was complete, as substitute Javier Hernandez popped up in the penalty area unmarked to nod home Giggs’ cross, sending one quarter of the shed end into delirium. There was still time for more late drama, as with United pressing for what would have been a priceless winner, Juan Mata’s free kick in stoppage time looked set to hand Chelsea the three points, only for David De Gea to acrobatically claw it away, and ensure United secured their much deserved point in perhaps the game of the season. Next for the reds, the visit of Liverpool to Old Trafford.
De Gea – 6 World class save kept United in it.
Rafael – 7 Fantastic energy and confidence on the ball.
Ferdinand – 6 Sloppy defending for 3rd goal.
Evans – 5 Poor afternoon after some recent good form.
Evra – 5 Had a hand in all 3 of Chelsea’s goals, redeemed himself by winning penalty.
Valencia – 7 Constant threat and provided flexibility by moving to right back.
Carrick – 6 Dominated second half.
Giggs – 7 Provided telling passing as United looked to come back.
Young – 6 Decent return to the side.
Rooney – 8 MOTM United’s focal point, showed great bottle for both penalties.
Welbeck – 6 Tested Cech on a few occasions and linked up well with Rooney.
Hernandez – 7 What an impact.
Scholes – 6 Gave United base for final assault.
Park – 5