A stunning second-half comeback earned Manchester United a point at Stamford Bridge after Chelsea let slip a three-goal lead with 35 minutes left, which practically ends any outside chance that Andre Villas-Boas’ side had of winning the league.
It was a pulsating match and one that United will be delighted they took something from, considering how they imploded either side of half-time to gift the hosts a three-goal lead which quite frankly their play and effort didn’t deserve.
United started the game well. Chelsea at the back couldn’t string a pass together and were somewhat lucky not to concede not one but two penalties inside the opening quarter-hour. First Young was forced down by Jose Boswinga, after the defender had pulled his shirt back.
Neither Howard Webb nor his assistant on the touch-line Darren Cann who both had clear views of the incidents awarded a foul in United’s favour. More was to follow shortly after when Danny Welbeck went down on the edge of the area.
The forward timed his run onto Wayne Rooney’s pass well but fell to the ground under a challenge from Chelsea debutant Gary Cahill. The defender failed to win the ball and whilst the foul wasn’t a red-card, it was a foul none the less.
United were far from happy and at the very least should have been awarded a free-kick had Cahill’s foul just been outside the area. Chelsea then came back into the game as Juan Mata and Raul Meireles began to brighten up in midfield.
Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs were seeing a lot of the ball for United and a good ball from the former sent Rooney clear down the right. Only a great block from Branislav Ivanovic denied Welbeck from tapping in at the back-post.
On Chelsea’s first-real attack of the game on 38 minutes, they took the lead when Sturridge weaved his way past Patrice Evra in the box and his low crossed deflected in off Jonny Evans after flicking off the unfortunate David De Gea’s boot.
De Gea denied Sturridge doubling Chelsea’s lead with a flying save to his left before Petr Cech kept out a curling effort from Young, a close-range shot from Welbeck and a long-range drive from Rooney as United ended the half well.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s half-time team talk seemingly went out of the window as within five minutes after the restart, United found themselves 3-0 down as a mixture of poor defending and great finishing enabled Chelsea to grab control of the game.
Fernando Torres was given time and space down the right to send in a cross that asked to be struck towards goal, which was exactly what Mata did sending in an unstoppable shot past De Gea to double Chelsea’s lead a staggering 23 seconds into the half.
An untimely foul by Evra on Sturridge gave Chelsea a free-kick on the right which Mata delivered into the box for Luiz who timed his run well, to head home with the ball taking a big deflection off Rio Ferdinand to send Stamford Bridge into raptures.
Despite the game seemingly being out of reach, United pressed on and won a penalty 8 minutes after Luiz’s goal when Sturridge carelessly stopped Evra’s bursting run into the box. Rooney did the business from the spot, hammering the ball in.
With a clink opening up for United, Ferguson went for it and took off the tireless Rafael for Paul Scholes to breathe life and further energy into midfield. Scholes took the game like a duck to a water and Chelsea never recovered from it.
Shortly after Mata forced De Gea into a smart save, United were awarded a second penalty when after good work from Rooney and substitute Javier Hernandez, Welbeck went down in the area under a clumsy Ivanovic challenge.
Rooney stepped up again, sending Cech the wrong way to make the score 3-2. Villas-Boas knew that his side needed more in midfield and took of the lively Sturridge bringing on Oriel Romeu to try and combat Scholes’ arrival on the pitch.
Chelsea despite panicking came close to grabbing a fourth but De Gea calmly tipped over an Essien screamer before Torres wastefully failed to shoot after a moment’s hesitation from Evans gave the Spaniard a free run on goal.
Torres was made to pay for his miss as six minutes from time United equalised. Good play from Valencia saw Rooney force Cech into a save. The loose ball fell to Giggs who coolly crossed for Hernandez to head home from close range.
Despite good spells on the ball with time left, United failed to create a chance to grab a sensational winner. They were left to thank De Gea for leaving London with a point as the much criticised keeper pulled of two stunning saves in injury-time.
First he kept out a stunning free-kick from Mata that seemed destined to go in after Scholes had given away a foul on Luiz before tipping over a powerful strike from Cahill when space opened up for the former Bolton defender to shoot.
Critics may argue that Chelsea only let a three-goal lead slip because their experienced trio of Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry, but that would be doing injustice to United’s second-half fight-back which showed just why they are the Champions.
United: De Gea, Evra, Evans, Ferdinand, Rafael (Scholes), Young (Hernandez), Giggs, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, Welbeck (Park).
Whilst Wayne Rooney took the majority of the plaudits, it was a real team-effort. Rafael and Jonny Evans have been criticised in the past but both put in a mature performances which leads to the veteran who just keeps rolling back the years; Ryan Giggs. The Welshman didn’t look tired and his passing was nothing short of exceptional. His cross for the equaliser wasn’t bad either.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87