United travelled to Stamford Bridge in a match that had been touted at the beginning of the season as a title decider. However, after their rampant start to the season, Chelsea have stuttered and stumbled their way to 5th place in the table, leaving themselves all but out of the title race. United were looking to open up a a 7 point lead on title rivals Arsenal, however the reds have yet to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge during the Abramovic era. For the first time in nearly 3 years, Ferguson named an unchanged side from the one that beat Wigan on the weekend, with Darren Fletcher used wide on the right, and top scorer Dimitar Berbatov having to settle for a place on the bench yet again.
With both teams pushing for a win, the game began in frenetic fashion, with both sides forwards threatening the opposition with some good movement. However clear cut chances were at a premium, with two notoriously strong defences performing well and limiting each other to half chances. In what was a tense half, it took a moment of great quality to break the deadlock, and this was provided by Wayne Rooney. Rooney, who had been subject to plenty of media scrutiny prior to the match after his antics at Wigan, seized upon the space offered up by Chelsea’s defence, by unleashing a powerful shot into the bottom corner to give United a well deserved lead.
A 1 goal lead was nothing more than United deserved after a strong first half performance, however it was likely to not be a slender lead with an inevitable Chelsea resurgence to come. Disappointingly for the reds, it took merely 7 minutes for Chelsea to be level, as Ivanovic’s header fell to new signing David Luiz who smashed home a well struck volley into the bottom corner. With Chelsea now in the ascendancy, United began to look ragged in possession, and appeared to have lost some of the belief which was so prevalent in the first half. This was demonstrated perfectly by Rooney, who when bearing down on goal fluffed his finish wide, whereas in the first half he had been so clinical.
Ultimately, the match was swayed by a disastrous last 15 minutes from United, which saw us slip to our second defeat of the season, with referee Martin Atkinson at the heart of United’s troubles. Initially Atkinson failed to punish what appeared to be a second bookable offence from David Luiz, after clearly obstructing Rooney off the ball. 5 minutes later, Chelsea were awarded what seemed a soft penalty, as Yuri Zhirkov broke into the box before colliding with a stationary Chris Smalling who could do little to get out of the way. Lampard dispatched the spot kick, and despite the introduction of Dimitar Berbatov and Ryan Giggs United never looked like rescuing a point, succumbing to a damaging defeat. A poor night for the reds was further compounded by the dismissal of Nemanja Vidic in the last minute for a second bookable offence, ruling him out of the trip to Anfield on sunday.
Once again United have failed to beat Chelsea on their own patch, and although the defeat is damaging in our push for the title, it can be easily forgotten about with victory against Liverpool. With Arsenal now breathing down our necks, there is massive pressure on to put together a winning run in our next couple of fixtures before what will probably be a title deciding trip to the Emirates. If any team can cope with this pressure, it’s United, so lets hope that our big players stand up and drag us over the finishing line for the 19th time.