Club Focus – Chelsea – Blues continue United hoodoo to keep faint Premier League title hopes alive

Chelsea’s Premier League crown may be slipping but they proved on Tuesday night they will not give it up without a fight after beating table-topping Manchester United 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. Trailing the Red Devils by 15 points going into the game, albeit with a game in hand, the Blues were facing a potentially crippling eighth defeat of the season but an impressive second half comeback helped the champions overcome their rivals to close the gap and move into fourth place with 11 games remaining.

Wayne Rooney, who escaped a potential ban by the FA following an investigation into his ugly clash with Wigan Athletic’s James McCarthy in their weekend match, gave United the lead just before the half-hour, driving low past Petr Cech in the Chelsea net after the Blues’ defenders failed to close him down. After the break however, Carlo Ancelotti’s men upped their game and equalised on 54 minutes as David Luiz continued the impressive start to his Chelsea career with his first goal for the club. Long-term target Luiz, who joined from Benfica in a £25m January deal on transfer deadline day, showed great composure to pull his side level with a smashing right-foot half-volley after Michael Essien’s cross reached him from Branislav Ivanovic’s flick on. The winner came with 12 minutes remaining as substitute Yuri Zhirkov was felled by Chris Smalling in the penalty area, a ‘soft’ award by referee Martin Atkinson in United boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s eyes, but nonetheless one that was dispatched by Frank Lampard to inflict on United only their second league defeat of the season.

In winning the Blues extended their impressive unbeaten home record over United to nine games and only once now since February 1998 have the Red Devils returned North with all three points. Chelsea also remain the only Premier League side to enjoy such a winning record over the illustrious United, having beaten Sir Alex Fergusons’ men on 13 occasions in 37 league meetings, whilst losing just ten times.

Ancelotti moved to defend Fernando Torres after the match following the £50m January signing’s failure to break his Blues duck in his fourth game since moving from Liverpool. “Fernando didn’t score but I don’t ask my strikers to score, I ask them to play for the team. Torres did a very good job with that,” Ancelotti said. He continued to reassure that despite the Spaniard’s disappointing return in front of goal, Torres’ impact on the team had impressed him: “People judge him on the goals he scored but I have to look at different things about his performance. He worked for the team, put pressure on the defenders, moved well in front and worked hard.

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s youth team progressed to the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup for the third time in four years after beating Watford 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. 24 hours after appearing on the bench for the senior team against Manchester United on his 18th birthday, the exciting Josh McEachran was instrumental in the holders’ progression to the last four as he and Billy Clifford impressed in midfield for the youngsters, who will face either Manchester United or Liverpool in the semi-finals.

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