In a match billed as the title decider of the season, Chelsea ran out 2-1 winners over Manchester United at Old Trafford. Goals from Joe Cole after 20 minutes and substitute Didier Drogba after 79 minutes paved the way for a big win for the Blues. Federico Macheda provided the lone goal for United. The win sends Chelsea two points clear of United with five games to play and gives the Blues a 5-0 record against United, Arsenal, and Liverpool, with a meeting with Liverpool at Anfield still to come.
Both Carlo Ancelotti and Sir Alex Ferguson made some surprising and not so surprising changes to their starting 11’s for this match. Coming off the 7-1 destruction of Aston Villa, the Chelsea boss elected to name the same 11 players for today’s match, despite Didier Drogba returning to fitness. Nicolas Anelka remained as the lone striker, with Joe Cole and Deco both retaining their spots, and Drogba and Michael Ballack on the bench.
Ferguson was forced to make one change to the lineup bringing in Dimitar Berbatov for the injured Wayne Rooney. The other changes weren’t as forced with Ferguson electing to start a similar 4-2-3-1 formation to the one that stifled AC Milan in the Champions League. Ryan Giggs was handed a start on the left, with Ji-Sung Park playing behind Berbatov, and Antonio Valencia on the right.
The tactic seemed to backfire for United for the first half. Whether it was the absence of their talisman Rooney or the midweek trip to Munich, United came out flat for most of the first half with Chelsea looking comfortable in possession. The Blues took advantage of their lapses after 20 minutes when in-form Florent Malouda skinned three defenders and squared the ball for Cole to flick between Patrice Evra’s legs and into the far corner of the net.
Controversy seemed to be a trend in this match starting in the first half, with penalty shouts from United and Chelsea both denied by Mike Dean. Park went over in the box after a challenge from Yuri Zhirkov and Anelka was hip-checked by Gary Neville, but both penalties were denied.
Moments after the start of the second half, Anelka should’ve made it 2-0 as Chelsea caught United on the break through a beautiful ball from Cole to Paulo Ferreira, but the Portuguese full back got caught between a shot and a pass and in the end the chance rolled by the post.
United started to find their rhythm and created chances for Berbatov and with the hosts pressing forward, Ancelotti made his first changes. He would withdraw Anelka for Drogba on 69 minutes and four minutes later brought on Salomon Kalou for Cole, who was suffering from an apparent back injury.
Drogba’s impact was immediately felt as the midfield began to find space and Drogba began to disrupt the United back line, however 10 minutes after his introduction, the striker was at the center of controversy again. Drogba gave Chelsea a 2-0 lead after a lovely ball from Kalou and he fired it into the roof of the net beyond Edwin Van der Sar. Replays suggested, however, that Drogba was about a yard offside when the ball was played.
The decision may have been leveled up two minutes later as Petr Cech blocked a cross from Nani into the path of Macheda and the Italian was able to knock the ball into the net. Again, replays showed a bit of question in the goal, as the ball appeared to strike Macheda’s arm before going into the net.
United kept probing for an equaliser and were nearly given it in stoppage time after Neville found Berbatov free at the penalty spot. However, the Bulgarian summed up his afternoon by hitting his shot right at Cech.
It was a well deserved result as Chelsea looked comfortable on the afternoon and United will be left wondering what happened in the first half.