Chelsea beats Red Devils, throws title race wide open
Chelsea overcame league-leaders Manchester United thanks to an inspired second half performance and a horror show by referee Mark Atkinson. It was deja vu for the Reds whose loss at this venue (after a clear offside Drogba goal) sealed their fate in the premier league last season. This time it was the awarding of a soft penalty after Zhirkov went down with score tied at one apiece and Lampard made no mistake from the spot. To make matters worse skipper Nemanja Vidic was sent off in dying moments of the match after a second bookable offence and that would mean United would travel to Anfield without the services of Rio Ferdinand and Vidic.
In a must win game for the Blues, Ancelotti went with the strike force of Torres and Anelka up front with new signing David Luiz partnering John Terry at the heart of their defense. Sir Alex sprung a surprise when he went for two up to and yet picked Hernandez ahead of Golden Boot favorite Dimitar Berbatov. O’Shea was preferred to Rafael whereas fit again Ryan Giggs started on the bench. The match got off to an uncharacteristically frenetic start with Chelsea dominant. They could have gone on front when Anelka’s centre found Malouda in the edge of the United box but his effort was straight at Edvin Van der Sar. As the half wore on, United started controlling the midfield and after neat interplay between Nani and Rooney the United number 10 fired an immaculate low drive which had Petr Cech beaten at his near post. Chelsea came closest to equalizing just before the break when a Lampard free kick was first brilliantly parried by Van der Sar and then between the Dutchman and Vidic on the line prevented Ivanovic from scoring from two yards out.
A resurgent Chelsea emerged from the tunnel post the breather and the equalizer came just 10 minutes into the second half. United failed to clear an Essien cross from the left which fell to David Luiz whose thumping volley gave Van der Sar no chance. It was the Brazilian’s first goal for the Blues, who had thus far (barring the goal) kept Rooney relatively quiet. In a bid to go for the kill Chelsea replaced Anelka with Drogba whereas Sir Alex brought on Berbatov and Giggs (who made a record-equaling 606th league appearance) for Hernandez and Scholes respectively. David Luiz (who was on a yellow card) could have gone from hero to zero after his blatant off the ball challenge on Wayne Rooney which referee Martin Atkinson overlooked.
The dubious penalty:
The defining moment of the match came on the 77th minute when Zhirkov got his leg entangled with Chris Smalling and conned Mark Atkinson to point to the spot. Frank Lampard stepped up and made no mistake from the spot.
The night went worse when Nemanja Vidic was given his marching orders following a second bookable offense, a decision that meant he would miss the all important trip to Anfield on Sunday.
Manchester United will feel hard done by as it is now three years in a row that a refereeing decision has cost them the match at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea following a mini slump climbed back into the top four but the biggest winners were probably Arsenal who can now move within a point of the league leaders with a win over the Black Cats on Saturday.