KALOU PRESERVES HOME RECORD
Salomon Kalou recorded a late equaliser for Chelsea and extended his side’s unbeaten home league record to 85 matches, after a 1-1 draw against Manchester United.
Kalou scored after Wayne Rooney’s dissent allowed John Obi Mikel’s free-kick to find the substitute, who headed beyond the statuesque United ‘keeper Thomas Kuszczak.
Ji-Sung Park had given United an early lead at Stamford Bridge on 18 minutes after Chelsea ‘keeper Petr Cech denied Dimitar Berbatov, only to react on the rebound.
The result reflected fairly on the balance of the game, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils commanding the opening half, before harsh words at half time from Luiz Felipe Scolari, provoked Chelsea in to a dominant second half display.
However neither side claimed victory, with Chelsea relinquishing their Premier League lead to Arsenal, whilst United remain in the league’s bottom-half after one win in four matches.
United appeared intent on avenging their slow season start as early as the first minute when Darren Fletcher’s shot was blocked inside the area after an intense opening.
And United’s ferocious pace saw Fletcher again failing to apply the finish from Owen Hargreaves’ deadly low right-wing cross on five minutes.
Although Chelsea almost seized an early advantage on eight minutes when Joe Cole – appearing to collect with his hand – galloped clear of the United defence before steering his shot wide.
Ricardo Carvalho was then substituted by Alex for Scolari’s side on 10 minutes to give United hope of unlocking Chelsea.
United came close when defender Rio Ferdinand’s dangerous drive was repelled by Cech after good passing, before gaining a deserved lead on 18 minutes.
Jose Bosingwa was caught napping by opposition full-back Patrice Evra, and the Frenchman bombarded down the left side before delivering a perfect cross to Berbatov, who forced an attempted holding save from Cech, only for Park to collect the rebound and fire United ahead.
Despite United’s opener, Chelsea hardly responded snappily and were sluggish with Didier Drogba’s influence up-front missed, though the Ivorian was ready to appear from the bench for the second-half.
But gradually Chelsea, who had not lost a home league match since the 21st February 2004 to Arsenal 2-1, started to rally via Michael Ballack, Joe Cole and Lampard in the midfield, as Anelka and Malouda squandered two half chances before half-time.
However, despite United witnessing Edwin Van Der Sar being replaced in goal by Thomas Kuszczak on 30 minutes and suffering defensively, they almost extended their lead just before the break. Slick passing from Berbatov and Rooney found goal-scorer Park, who drove his shot from close range straight at Ballack.
Chelsea had demonstrated glimpses of their attacking and passing skill-set towards the end of the opening half and with Drogba replacing the wayward Malouda on half-time, the Blues increased their tempo thereafter.
Drogba almost capitalised on a superb ball from Joe Cole on the right only to be denied by a desperate Ferdinand, when any connection from the striker would have resulted in a goal.
As Chelsea pressed further with dominant spells of possession and flank forays, United offered threatening attempts on the break, with Park and substitute Cristiano Ronaldo scuffing shots wide.
But, as United’s ill-discipline increased, receiving a total of seven yellow cards come full-time, Chelsea continued to probe at United. They nearly equalised when Joe Cole’s surging central run resulted in a drive blocked by Kuszczak, with the England winger failing to notice Anelka who would surely have scored.
However, perhaps not, considering Anelka’s next offerings just five minutes later, as firstly the Frenchman, who had scored three goals in five matches this season, drilled a half-volley wide and exhibited the miss of the season when he squandered from three yards out after a tantalising Joe Cole run and cross.
Though Chelsea’s pressure continued and after Rooney came agonisingly close to sealing United’s win on the counter after driving in to the side-netting from Ronaldo’s run, Rooney further suffered just three minutes later.
Chelsea were awarded a free-kick after a foul by Rooney on Ashley Cole, and Mikel applied a cross to Kalou who nodded comfortably past Kuszczak on 80 minutes.
It was the least Chelsea deserved after some intense pressure in the second period, where substitute Kalou and Ballack had wasted efforts.
Furthermore, as Chelsea’s spirited second-half comeback ensued, Kalou almost applied the winner when his effort was blocked by Gary Neville for a corner after a terrific lunge from the right-back.
And despite Fletcher witnessing Alex expertly diving to divert his shot wide from close-range on 85 minutes, the game ended a point each in a frenetic match. Scolari’s side will be relieved to have drawn and perhaps not taken victory, whilst Ferguson will be exasperated not to have made ground on United’s rivals by surrendering further points against Chelsea.
Chelsea: Cech; Bosingwa, A Cole, Terry, Carvalho (Alex 12); J Cole, Malouda (Drogba 46), Mikel, Lampard, Ballack (Kalou 74); Anelka.
Unused subs: Cudicini, Ferreira, Bridge, Belletti.
Manchester United: Van Der Sar (Kuszczak 30); Neville, Evra, Ferdinand, Evans; Hargreaves, Ji-Sung Park (O’Shea 75), Scholes (Ronaldo 55), Hargreaves; Berbatov, Rooney.
Unused subs: Brown, Giggs, Nani, Tevez.
Referee: Mike Riley (Yorkshire).