Chelsea’s season may have come back to life, just like they were able to come back, with the gracious help of referee Martin Atkinson, and beat Manchester United 2-1, making Arsenal the happiest team of the night.
Manchester United came looking prepared and ready to finally break their Stamford Bridge drought, almost nine years since their last victory there. Wayne Rooney’s fantastic strike, 29 minutes into the game, pretty much his only positive impact on the match, put United, deservedly ahead 1-0.
Chelsea just couldn’t get control of the midfield and when they finally were able to confront the United defense, Vidic was at top form. Something that didn’t last in the second half.
A much more aggressive home side came out of the dressing rooms, looking like this is the game the rest of the season depends on. A true notion, probably. Still no threat from their impotent strikers (Torres and Anelka), but Lampard, Ramires and Essien started pushing and beating Scholes, Fletcher and Carrick in the middle. Atkinson was content with Chelsea’s bullying, pushing United back. David Luiz showed fantastic skill, calmly volleying in a cross after poor coverage from Patrice Evra, his first goal since arriving from Benfica.
Seven minutes later Didier Drogba came in. United still got opportunties, but the game felt like flowing towards the Blues. Vidic and Smalling seemed much more disturbed now that Drogba was on and Chelsea players kept their aggressive style, protected by a no-whistle policy from Atkinson. United were just too soft. Yuri Zhirkov, coming in for a very weak Florent Malouda, got the penalty out of Chris Smalling. A very controversial decision, as it seemed like the lightest of touches from the young Centre back on the Russian. Frank Lampard had no problem from the spot.
What was left of the match, 11 minutes plus 5 in extra time, was mostly spent on Drogba running to the corner flag and shaking defenders off. Vidic managed to get himself sent off and will miss the Sunday visit to Anfield, looking much more crucial of a match then it did 24 hours ago.
United lost the game because they didn’t raise their level when Chelsea did theirs. As a team, United are a stronger unit, but without Nani (terrible game – got beat up pretty much by Ivanovic) and with Rooney good enough for two-three effective plays in a match, Ferguson must have the others – Fletcher, Scholes, Giggs, someone, to raise his game. They didn’t this evening, and the title race is wide open once again. Still seems like a two horse race, but Arsenal, four points behind United and a game in hand, look like a much more serious threat thanks to their London rivals.
Chelsea? Title talk isn’t in order, but a win like this can breathe new life into a team that seemed dead for large parts of this season after an amazing start. If they can only get their strikers to start scoring goals…