Manchester Utd 0 Chelsea 1
Chelsea took a massive step towards a top-four finish with a victory at Old Trafford in the dying moments of the contest. After below-average performance from both sides, Chelsea showed they wanted it more and Juan Mata’s strike which took a deflection off Phil Jones was enough to give them all three points and move them up to third in the league. As expected there were changes to the side which won against Basel, although somewhat surprisingly Frank Lampard remained in the side, having now played almost three games in a row. Ashley Cole came in for Ryan Bertrand, David Luiz went back into defence in place of Gary Cahill and Demba Ba was preferred to Fernando Torres. Juan Mata came into midfield in place of the reshuffled Luiz. The game was open from the word go, with both sides slightly below their best and United’s weakened side clearly willing to take chances in a game which was a dead rubber from their point of view. Chances were at a premium initially although Chelsea did threaten early on when Mata tried to pick out Ba at the far post but the striker couldn’t quit make the contact he wanted and his effort went over the bar. United were never going to be on the back foot for long at Old Trafford however, and Petr Cech soon had something to think about when he failed to hold on to Rafael’s cross, although thankfully Cleverly fired wide when the ball fell to him. Whenever Chelsea had the ball they went marauding forward, with Victor Moses and Ramires providing a midfield engine that United struggled to match for pace. After 15 minutes, Oscar was also keen to run at the home defence whenever possible and one such run cut right through the middle before the Brazilian let fly but Lindegaard got just enough on it and saved onto his own post. Chances were starting to come more frequently now and Chelsea had more of them than their hosts. A great chance to go one in front was presented to Moses when Ramires laid the ball off to Mata, who in turn found the Nigerian international but he skied his effort into the stand. At the other end United gave Chelsea something to think about when Jones made space down the right and sent a dangerous ball across the box but it was too hard for Anderson and he couldn’t quite reach it. Chelsea retaliated with an effort from Ba just before the half hour mark but it went wide of the mark without ever giving Lindegaard anything to worry about. As the half wore on things began to slow down somewhat and the game took on the character which it would keep until the last five minutes, with good build up work in midfield from both sides at times failing to produce any clear cut openings in the final third. If there was one man likely to be able to feed off very little in terms of support it was Van Persie, who had been quiet for most of the half, but he went very close on 41 minutes when he got onto the end of a Giggs pass and improvised a shot on the volley which went just wide of the post. Cech was beaten and looked relieved to see it sail wide. The Dutchman had another go just before the break with a strong header but it was right down Cech’s throat and the sides went in level at the interval, on the whole a fair reflection of a game just edged slightly by the visitors. The decent performances from both teams meant no substitutions and Chelsea came back out on the front foot, with an early penalty appeal waved away by referee Webb. On reflection it looked like Luiz was hauled down just outside the penalty area by Giggs, but it was still a free-kick in the eyes of everyone except Webb (and presumably Sir Alex Ferguson) who waved play on. There was no return of the zip in Chelsea’s from the start of the first half which seemed to have gone for the duration of the game. United were proving difficult to break down, seemingly content to play for a draw and hit Chelsea on the counter. Jones should have done better when released into acres of space down the right by Anderson but his cross was abysmal and ended up going out for a goal kick with Van Persie lurking at the far post. The hour mark saw Ferguson shuffle his deck, with Anderson and Cleverley replaced by Buttner and Rooney, increasingly a peripheral figure at Old Trafford. The striker immediately gave the ball away after he came on, allowing Ramires to storm forward but he couldn’t pick out Ba and the Champions survived. With 15 minutes to go Benitez finally decided that changes were in order and Fernando Torres was brought on for Moses and immediately after the change was made Chelsea were agonisingly close to going in front. Lampard sent a brilliant cross into the box and Mata raced to meet it but was just inches short and couldn’t get his head to the ball. United survived a big scare but Chelsea were knocking on the door. Torres then won a free-kick as the pressure increased somewhat, but Luiz couldn’t do anything with it and his effort went wide of the mark. For all Chelsea’s huffing and puffing it looked like they might have to settle for a draw, a credible result away to United but one which wouldn’t help the cause of Champions League qualification much. Then, with four minutes to play, the breakthrough arrived. Again Rooney had his pocket picked by Ramires, although this time there was a big hint of a foul, and the Brazilian set off from the edge of the Chelsea box. He lost the ball with a loose pass but Chelsea got it back and Oscar then picked out Mata inside the box, who took a touch before firing into the bottom corner via Jones’ leg and the inside of the post. It was a huge goal and the joy on Mata’s face was evident, but there was still time for the home team to grab an equaliser, with memories of Luis Suarez still fresh in Chelsea minds. Things were settled a couple of minutes later however, when Rafael was shown red for an altercation with Luiz. The two players tussled on the touchline as they fought for the ball before Rafael took exception to Luiz’s physicality and kicked him on the back of the legs. Luiz went down and the referee had no choice but to end Rafael’s season by showing him a straight red card. Down to ten men, United still pressed for an equaliser but it was half-hearted and two late free-kicks were easily cleared by the Chelsea defence, who saw out injury time and delivered three points to Stamford Bridge. Victory against Sp*rs on Wednesday night will now seal Champions League football for another season.
Chelsea; Cech, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole, Ramires, Lampard, Oscar, Mata (Ake 89), Moses (Torres 75), Ba
Chelsea Scorer; Mata 86
Unused subs; Turnbull, Ferreira, Terry, Cahill, Benayoun
Booked; David Luiz
Referee; H Webb