Chelsea maintained their 100% home record following another clean sheet and a winning goal from captain John Terry leaving United five points behind the Premier League pace setters and without a win at Stamford Bridge since 2002.
The first half of this encounter was played largely through the midfield with United setting their stall out to frustrate Chelsea, enabling the visitors to have the best of the early possession immediately after Branislav Ivanovic tested Edwin van der Sar. Wayne Rooney was sent through on goal by Anderson on eight minutes only to be adjudged offside by the referee’s assistant when he looked to have been played on by Ashley Cole. Antonio Valencia was then bundled down rather clumsily by John Terry in the penalty area, however the award of a penalty would have been harsh. Speculative efforts by both Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick followed but it was the home side that created the most clear cut chance of the half through Nicolas Anelka. The Frenchman’s left foot curler from the edge of the penalty area required a smart save from van der Sar as he dived to his right.
The second half continued in much the same manner with neither keeper being troubled by shots from outside the area. As the half progressed United’s confidence grew as they looked to threaten through Rooney. One effort slid narrowly wide after Valencia teed it up on the edge of the box and another curling effort was bound for the top corner before Chelsea keeper Petr Cech parried comfortably. Chelsea struggled to create anything clear cut but rather ominously continued to win free-kick after free-kick outside the United penalty area and it was from one such opportunity that the deadlock was broken. Chelsea captain Terry rose highest to glance home Frank Lampard’s precise centre into the bottom corner 14 minutes from time. United then threw everything forward to push for the equaliser in the closing minutes but never really threatened with the game becoming somewhat heated in the closing exchanges.
Carlo Ancelotti “I think it was a difficult match for both teams. There was no space in midfield; it was difficult to create an opportunity to score. It was a match with a very good balance, a strong match and we did what we had to do. We beat a very good team: our best opponent.”
Sir Alex Ferguson “We dominated the game, we had great chances to win the match. We had great opportunities in terms of the football we played to get in and around the box. We should be finishing it off much better, we have only ourselves to blame for that. The fact that Chelsea have gone five points clear of us is a concern.”
Much of the talk prior to the match was concerned with the Manchester United defence with Rio Ferdinand out with a persistent calf injury and Nemanja Vidic only making the bench, meaning that Wes Brown and Jonny Evans again deputised. Chelsea’s in form front-men were expected to dominate the pairing who struggled midweek in the Champions League but this was not how it panned out. Evans and Brown were both superb in keeping their respective strikers under wraps. Brown was consistently strong refusing to be outmuscled by Didier Drogba and Evans was quick in the tackle constantly intercepting and breaking up the play refusing to let Anelka get away from him.
United set their stall out to pack the midfield and with the constant pressure from Darren Fletcher and Anderson managed to stifle Chelsea’s formidable diamond formation. It was Fletcher’s first Premier League match for a month but there were certainly no signs of fatigue with the Scot never allowing Chelsea time on the ball. United’s tactics were spot on, as Deco and Lampard struggled to influence the game, and prior to Chelsea’s goal looked like earning them at least a draw.
Chelsea’s rearguard was in fine form also and although United may have had much possession outside Chelsea 18-yard box they struggled to penetrate the west Londoner’s box. Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were quick in the tackle and strong in the air. The impenetrable nature of the two back four’s meant much of the action was contained to the middle third with clear cut chances few and far between. It was therefore likely that the deadlock would be broken from a set-piece but with Chelsea’s fragility this season from set-pieces and United the only team in the league not to concede from one it was somewhat surprising that it was Chelsea who did just that.
Brown felt that he was tugged down in the area by Drogba which provided a clear path for Terry’s head into the bottom right hand corner, with Fletcher also left aggrieved at the award of the free-kick feeling that he got the ball from the challenge with Ashley Cole. Referee Martin Atkinson was selected for his third big game this season having already taken charge of the Manchester derby and Chelsea’s home match with Liverpool and at times left both sets of players aggrieved at certain decisions. Drogba was shocked to receive a booking when Evans caught the Ivoirian’s chest with a very high boot when heading clear and United often felt that the referee was loathe to stop the game for an injury when Chelsea were in possession instead waiting for United to be in control. Sir Alex is certain the goal should not have stood and the Chelsea camp will have felt that Evans was lucky to escape a sending off following the challenge with Drogba and later appearing to kick out at Carvalho.
This was an extremely important result for Chelsea as they inflicted the third defeat of the season on their closest rivals but certainly won’t decide the fate of this season’s Premier League. United on the other hand will be pleased with a much improved display but extremely disappointed to come away with nothing.
Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United – Terry 76
Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Cech – , Ivanovic, Terry, Carvalho, Cole – Lampard, Essien, Ballack – Deco (Cole 63), – Drogba (Kalou 83), Anelka (Alex 93)
Manchester United (4-3-3): van de Sar – O’Shea, Brown, Evans, Evra – Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson (Owen 84) – Valencia, Rooney, Giggs (Obertan 84)
Chelsea – Manchester United
0 – Corners – 7
9 (6) – Shots (on target) – 11 (2)
13 – Fouls – 15
3 (0) – Yellow cards (Red) – 3 (0)
1 – Offside – 2