With a safe passage to the Wembley and a mouth watering final against Barcelona secured, it was back to business in the Premier League for United, with the probable title decider against Chelsea. Having dispatched Carlo Ancelotti’s side in convincing fashion in the champions league quarter final, United would need again to rely on their home form against a Chelsea side who have made a significant late title charge. With a United win all but guaranteeing the title, and a Chelsea win throwing the door wide open again, there was plenty at stake for two sides who have come accustomed to facing each other in monumental games over the years. An almost full strength United took to the field, with Patrice Evra the only notable exception, as Fergie again trusted the experience of Ryan Giggs in the middle of the park.
With so much at stake for both sides, a cagey affair appeared to be the favourite outcome, however, any doubts about United’s desire to go for the win were quelled immediately, as with merely 37 seconds on the clock, Javier Hernandez capitalised on a David Luiz error to slot past Petr Cech and give United a crucial early blow. With the Old Trafford crowd roaring them on, United put on a footballing masterclass in the opening 20 minutes, leaving Essien, Lampard and Mikel in a state of bewilderment as Giggs and Carrick passed their way around the midfield with aplomb. United were unlucky not to double their lead on several occasions, firstly Hernandez was denied by a last gasp Luiz touch, followed by two ferocious strikes from Rooney, one well saved by Cech the other narrowly missing the far post.
With all the early running, there was a threat United would rue missing some golden chances to kill the game off, yet on 23 minutes Nemanja Vidic quelled some nerves by getting infront of his man to nod home Ryan Giggs’s cross and United into a seemingly unassailable 2 goal lead. United were attacking at will, with Park harassing Ivanovic on the left, and Valencia terrorising Cole on the right, there was only one team looking likely to score. Inevitably however, Chelsea responded with firstly Drogba testing Van Der Sar with a well hit free kick, and then again the Dutch keeper excelled in keeping out Kalou’s point blank header, closing out what was an enthralling half of football.
Having left Chelsea shell shocked, it was obvious United would have to ride some sceond half pressure if they were to secure the three points which would all but seal the title. Changes at half time seemed to give Chelsea some extra momentum as they began to increase the pressure on the United goal, although rarely testing Van Der Sar who enjoyed a relatively comfortable afternoon. Despite an improvement in Chelsea, United still looked threatening on the break, with Antonio Valencia constantly proving too hot to handle for Ashley Cole. The Ecuadorian was unlucky to not win his side a penalty, as his low cross was clearly blocked by the onrushing Frank Lampard’s arm, only for referee and ardent ‘United fan’ Howard Webb to wave away protests. Minutes later, Webb again waved away a strong shout for a penalty, as Terry tripped Valencia in the area, with once again nothing doing much to the frustration of the baying crowd.
Almost on cue, Chelsea seized their good fortune, as Ivanovic climbed in the penalty area to nod down to Frank Lampard who toe poked past a helpless Van Der Sar to give Chelsea a lifeline back into the title race. However, despite throwing on £50 million striker Fernando Torres, and dominating much of the ball in the latter stages, Chelsea never really threatened to deny United a famous victory. 4 minutes stoppage time came and went, and a jubilant United side marched on to victory and one point away from a historic 19th title. For United, European and Domestic glory is at our mercy, and with one good performance at Ewood Park next week and a monumental effort against Barcelona away from writing ourselves into history. Criticism that this United side isn’t of the same calibre of past Ferguson teams may be right, but what cannot be taken away from them is their inane ability to win whatever the cost, and always lift themselves when others doubt them. United now march on to face Blackburn Rover’s next week with only one point needed to seal the title.
Hernandez has been on fire this season, looking forward to seeing what he is like next year.