FERGIE PAYS THE PENALTY
Chelsea drew level with Manchester United at the top of the English Premier League after our pulsating, epic victory at Stamford Bridge. It was a sunny early afternoon in SW6 as a timely double from Michael Ballack ensured that Chelsea were able to dedicate a fantastic victory to Pat Lampard, Frank’s mother, who tragically died last week.With Frank Lampard on compassionate leave, Michael Essien was a ready made replacement in midfield, whislt John Obi Mikel came in for Claude Makelélé. The other change from the Anfield Champions League encounter, saw Salomon Kalou replace Florent Malouda on the left wing.
United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson sprung a surprise or three, leaving out Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves, though the latter would make an early appearance. Ryan Giggs was the captain, whilst in midfield an unlikely trio of Carrick, Fletcher and Anderson were given the task for the day.
In the first minute, Wes Brown’s terrible back header forced van der Sar to parry away. Once Ferdinand nervously cleared Kalou’s cross, Essien volleyed over the bar. A minute later, the Chelsea midfielder was at it again, volleying into the arms of van der Sar after neat work by Ashley Cole and Salomon Kalou down the left.
Just ten minutes into the game, Nemanja Vidic was taken off injured after copping an accidental knee to the mouth from Drogba. Owen Hargreaves was his replacement, going at right back, Wes Brown shifting to the centre.
Chelsea were in the ascendancy and nearly broke the deadlock through Joe Cole. The England winger burst into the box and was denied by Brown and Silvestre, only for a ricochet to fall his way again. He unleashed a stinging volley that crashed back off the frame of the goal with van der Sar rooted to the spot. It was a clear signal of intent from Avram Grant’s Blues.
Chelsea continued to come forward, and were rewarded in stoppage time. Four minutes of it had been announced by the fourth official, just as Drogba found himself on the ball. He fought off two United defenders before chipping a teasing ball to the back post, where Kalou was marked. Ballack however, was not, and he powered a stunning header past the United goalkeeper to send the Chelsea fans into raptures, and his team into half time with a one goal advantage.
United improved at the start of the second half, but nonetheless their equaliser was presented on a silver platter by the otherwise immense Ricardo Carvalho. Ferreira played a free kick quickly to him, causing his first touch to be poor. Under pressure, he blindly played the ball towards John Terry, only for Rooney to be standing in the way. The United striker raced clear and emphatically finished past Čech.
Before long, Rooney had picked up an injury and was replaced by Ronaldo, whilst John O’Shea replaced the anonymous Anderson. Within a minute, Grant had responded by taking off Ferreira and putting on Anelka, the formation switching to 4-4-2.
In the 73rd minute, Chelsea were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box for a foul on Terry. Drogba and Ballack argued as to who was going to take it, with Ricardo Carvalho playing the role of mediator. Ballack eventually made his way into the box, Drogba’s eventual free kick forcing a comfortable save out of van der Sar.
With nine minutes remaining, Andriy Shevchenko made an appearance, replacing Kalou, as the Blues searched for more firepower. Not long after, the Blues were denied a penalty, as the ball hit Wes Brown on both hands in the box.
However, they weren’t to be denied when Essien burst forward and crossed, the ball striking the hand of Michael Carrick. Under the most intense of pressure, Ballack lined up the spot kick and sent van der Sar the wrong way, thumping the ball into the bottom left hand corner.
There was more drama to come though, as Cristiano Ronaldo beat Čech with a low drive, only to find Ashley Cole on the line to clear, whilst Andriy Shevchenko heroically cleared an even more certain goal from Rio Ferdinand’s header. The popular Ukrainian celebrated like he’d scored, whilst the clearance could well do justice to the £30m outlay for his services.
After the longest five minutes of injury time known to man, referee Alan Wiley blew full time, the Chelsea fans going wild at the most important three points of the season, the United players led by Rio Ferdinand departing in a huff down the tunnel.
The Blues are well and truly back in the race now and a result at Stamford Bridge against Liverpool on Wednesday, could well set us on course for an improbable double.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Čech; Ferreira (Anelka 66), Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Essien,. Mikel, Ballack; J Cole (Makelélé 84), Drogba, Kalou (Shevchenko 81).
Manchester United (4-3-3) Van Der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic (Hargreaves 13), Silvestre; Carrick, Anderson (O’Shea 65), Fletcher; Nani, Rooney (Ronaldo 64), Giggs.
Referee Alan Wiley
Attendance 41, 828