Chelsea came out on top in a pulsating clash with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, as Frank Lampard crashed home the winner from the penalty spot.
It was a great advert for the Premier League as both sides played with a real tempo from the off, and there was no doubting the commitment as tackles flew in from all angles.
David Luiz could count himself lucky not to have been sent off for an off the ball clash with Rooney, who had given United the lead in the first half, before the Brazilian levelled for the Champions with his first goal for the club.
The winner came 11 minutes from time when Chris Smalling tripped Yury Zhirkov inside the box, giving Lampard the chance to step up and fire home.
All the talk in the build up to the game had been about how neither side could afford to lose, and this was obviously on the mind of both sides from the start, as both pressed for an early goal as Malouda shot straight at Van Der Sar before Evra failed to find Rooney at the other end.
Fernando Torres looked sharper once again, as he started up front alongside Nicolas Anelka, and the pair once again caused United some problems.
But it was the league leaders who went in front on the half hour. Rooney, whose every touch was being roundly booed, was given too much space on the edge of the area and drilled a low powerful shot inside Petr Cech’s near post.
Although the goal seemed to have knocked the wind out of Ancelotti’s side they should’ve been level five minutes before the interval when Frank Lampard’s free kick was saved by Van Der Sar, who could only push it to Branislav Ivanovic. The Serb was about to pull the trigger from all of 2 yards when the big keeper swatted the ball off his toe and bundled clear.
It was clear that Chelsea needed a reaction after half time, and it took them just nine minutes to restore parity.
Ivanovic flicked on Essien’s cross and David Luiz showed fantastic technique to guild the ball inside the post, with Van Der Sar motionless.
It was such a good finish it felt like the £50 million front man should’ve scored it. But despite failing to find the net again, there was improvement from the still settling Torres.
With the game now thrown wide open, it good see positive changes being made by both managers to try and find the winner.
Drogba was introduced for Anelka, and the Ivorian immediately linked up with Torres, an encouraging sign for any Chelsea fan, a terrifying prospect for everyone else.
For the first time since his big money move, it looked as if the hard work on the training ground might be starting to pay off. Torres looked like a Chelsea player.
Whilst the champions were threatening at one end, United were being bullied at the other. Whilst Ferguson was still bemoaning referee Martin Atkinson for not sending off Luiz, Chelsea broke and Chris Smalling, whose last appearance at the Bridge saw him score an own goal, tripped substitute Zhirkov, Atkinson pointed to the spot after a long look at the incident.
After Lampard had dispatched the penalty Zhirkov almost killed the game off as his thunderous volley from the edge of the area was turned against the post by Vidic who, to wrap up United’s night, was sent off in stoppage time for hauling down Ramires.
Chelsea might still be a long way off retaining the title, but this game felt like a trophy to the home fans. Too rare have performance of this urgency come this season. The new formation looked to have settled, with Lampard and Essien finding a good balance in the middle of the park whilst Ramires was once again excellent on the right.
The real star however was Luiz, who has already cemented his place as a cult hero in the stands for his constant eye-catching performances. He chased United down late on, having pulled Chelsea level, and his no nonsense defending, especially in the face of a heavyweight like Rooney, was hugely encouraging.
A few more performances like this in the remainder of the season, and Carlo Ancelotti’s side have nothing to worry about.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cole, David Luiz (Bosingwa 81), Terry, Essien, Ramires, Lampard, Malouda (Zhirkov 71), Torres, Anelka (Drogba 61)
Man Utd: Van Der Sar, Evra, (Fabio 81), Smalling, Vidic, O’Shea, Carrick, Nani, Scholes (Giggs 70), Fletcher, Rooney, Hernandez (Berbatov 70)
Sent off: Vidic
Man of the Match: David Luiz