Saturday saw Chelsea meet league leaders and title defenders Manchester United in the what was being called ‘The Clash of the Titans’, ‘The Battle of Stamford Bridge’ ‘The Title Decider’ and ‘The Match of the season’. Chelsea have not been beaten at Stamford Bridge since their 2-1 loss to Arsenal in February 2007. That makes it an amazing 100 unbeaten domestic games! Manchester United on the other hand are the highest scoring club in the EPL this season with a squad of which Sir Alex says ‘this is the strongest squad I’ve ever had in 21 years.’
If Manchester had won this match, it would most certainly mean that the 2007-2008 title was all but theirs, but if Chelsea were to win, that would mean that they would be equal on points with the Red Devils (even though United still have a much superior goal difference) , and the title battle would go on till the end of the season with all remaining games becoming must win games for both the clubs. Every neutral, I guess would want the title race to go on till the end. But then who am I kidding? Neutrals in a Chelsea-Man U match, whoever heard of such a thing!?
It was 5:15 PM kick-off and I was all set in front of the telly, slightly jealous of John Dykes and Steve McMahon who had the best seats in Stamford Bridge. It all started in the tunnel, the United squad lead by Rio Ferdinand, stood in readiness but there was no Chelsea player to be seen. A small cynical voice in me said ‘maybe Chelsea are scared’ but then came confident captain John Terry and the game got under way.
Chelsea were the first to attack and in the 38 second of the game Edwin Van Der Sar was forced to make a save off Michael Essien’s shot. In the first few minutes of the game, Vidic was caught by Didier Drogba’s knee as he stooped to head the ball clear and had to be taken off. He was replaced by Owen Hargreaves and I shuddered remembering Hargreaves free kick against Arsenal. It was later reported that Vidic had broken his tooth which had gone through his tooth was taken to the hospital. Poor Vidic, he had just recovered from a stomach flu which he had caught in Barcelona and it wasn’t sure till very late if he’d be fit for this match against Chelsea.
Chelsea dominated the first half and Michael Essien was simply superb with his runs forward. Manchester United who had wing wizard and PFA player of the year (am sure, he’ll win tonight) Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez starting on the bench, looked out of sorts. Chelsea had a majority of the possession of the ball and looked the most likely team to score. I felt they just lacked the final ball quite a few times and while they did have a lot of the ball and quite a few chances being created. There weren’t nearly as many shots on target.
When Joe Cole’s shot on goal in the 20th minute bounced off the crossbar, and there was still no goal till the 44th minute I felt like Chelsea’s terrible luck from last season was continuing. In case you haven’t guessed it by now, I was hoping for a Chelsea win. But all that changed with a super header by Michael Ballack in the 45th min off Drogba’s cross. It was glorious and the Chelsea squad dedicated the very important goal to Frank Lampard’s mother, who had passed away during the week.
This is when I was wishing there was no half time break. I have seen it happen in the past when Manchester United start off a game badly and then I guess Sir Alex says something to them at half time and they come back transformed. I really think all managers should get to know those magical Sir Alex words! Also, there was the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carloz Tevez being brought on after half time. And I know Chelsea, well enough, once they go ahead, they try to just defend and keep that lead. Which was a fine and during Jose Mourinho’s time they were great at keeping their lead but lately they haven’t been as effective.( remember the Wigan game?)
There were no changes by Sir Alex after half time but he definitely had said those magic words of his to the team as Manchester definitely looked more threatening (dare I say awake) . They were keeping possession well and scarily enough Cristiano Ronaldo was warming up on the touchline! Just then Carvalho made a major mistake at the back and passed directly to Rooney who of course scored, a fine finish. I thought Carvalho had gifted Sir Alex and Manchester United the title and that United would now just sit back and kill the game. But, Sir Alex wanted to be doubly sure so he replaced Rooney (who was suffering from a muscle pull) with Ronaldo and O’Shea with Anderson. I braced myself for a massacre. Ronaldo was rather shocked by the harsh welcome from Michael Ballack. The game continued and Manchester United were looking more and more threatening. While Manchester United were piling on the pressure, Chelsea’s Didier Drogba was fighting his own teammate (the goal scorer) Michael Ballack for a free kick. Drogda being more of a baby than Ballack won the sulking contest and took the kick which wasn’t half bad. Only I wonder what Ballack could have done with it. Manchester further upped their tempo and Drogba still continued to argue with Ballack, who turned his back on the tantrums.
Thank God, for Michael Essien, John Terry and the others who were more focussed on wining the game. In the 86th minute Essien crossed the ball into the box and it hit Carrick’s hand. A penalty for handball was awarded against the United midfielder and you didn’t see Drogba arguing with Ballack over taking this one! Oh and this was the first penalty given against Manchester United all season! Brilliant Ballack kept his cool to score from the spot. Chelsea were once again in front and the crowd was ecstatic. There were 5 minutes added on and Manchester United were going all out. Ashely Cole cleared one off the line, as did Shevchenko in the dying minutes of added time. Ferdinand lost his cool and John Terry intervened and I think saved Ferdinand from a Red card. (Fabio was in the crowd). Later, there was tiff between the Chelsea grounds men and the United players who were cooling down after the game. The players claimed that the grounds men asked them to leave the grounds and wouldn’t let them cool down properly. There were verbal and physical blows exchanged between the two groups.
Was it really a penalty? Did Sir Alex make a mistake with his team selection? Will the title be decided on goal difference this year? John Terry or Rio Ferdinand, who will lead the English team? Are United players bad losers? Is Drogba crazy to be fighting over a free kick?! There will always be questions but what matters is … Chelsea 2 – 1 Manchester United. Chelsea level on points with Manchester United at the top of the table and the the title race is ON and promises to be a nail biter.