Despite a lackluster first-half Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea rallied with a determined comeback from a goal down to give their season a well needed shot in the arm.
Both sides set up in a standard 4-4-2 formation with naturally central players Ramires and Darren Fletcher, respectively, taking up the right flank. However, United soon proved to be the more adept with the system as Fletcher caused problems with some astute use of the ball while Chelsea looked narrow and short of ideas.
Ancelotti opted to start with front pairing Fernando Torres and Nicholas Anelka after they showed signs of clicking into gear against FC Copenhagen last week. However, the static Chelsea pair were outshone by Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez for much of the opening 45 minutes.
David Luiz put in an all action performance in his second appearance for the club, reading the play well early on and nipping in front of his man to take the ball away. Luiz tracked Rooney into the deep and looked to get physical with the England striker in order to frustrate him of time and space.
As the first-half drew on United began to dominate proceedings and the breakthrough eventually came as Chelsea afforded Rooney too much space, allowing him to strike viciously into the bottom left-hand corner for his first goal from outside the penalty area since 2008.
Chelsea’s few opportunities came from set pieces as Lampard looked to catch Edwin Van der Sar off-guard with a powerful free-kick, only to see the veteran ‘keeper pull off a magnificent double save, palming the initial strike away and then throwing up a long arm to deny Branislav Ivanovic an easy follow up.
Ancelotti stubbornly refused to change things at half-time and was rewarded on the 54th minute as Ivanovic and David Luiz showed the Chelsea strikers how its done. A fine flick from the Serb allowed Luiz to utilize the space he was afforded, showing good technique to smash home a half volley on the turn to equalize.
Chasing the game, Carlo Ancelotti threw on Didier Drogba and Yuri Zhirkov in what proved to be an inspired change. Fresh off the back of an injury the Russian in particular was full of energy, bursting into the area and eventually going down to earn a controversial penalty which Frank Lampard smashed into the roof of the net with no sign of nerves following his recent shaky record from the spot.
Once Chelsea had the goal advantage Ramires and Zhirkov looked to tuck inside and pack the midfield, stifling United of any space. Chelsea kept possession well in the opposition half for the remaining minutes, and frustration finally showed as Nemanja Vidic bundled over Ramires to earn a second yellow, ruling him out of Sunday’s now crucial tie with Liverpool.
As the final whistle blew on a fantastically fast paced, end to end Premier League tie, Stamford Bridge rocked to the sound of Madness in a moment of ecstasy which may have felt a long time coming.