Chelsea opened up a five point lead at the summit of the Premier League with a battling 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge this afternoon. The winning goal will no doubt be a source of debate for many days to come, with both John Terry and Nicolas Anelka getting touches on an in swinging Frank Lampard free kick. Either way, the ball nestled in Van der Sar’s far corner and ensured the Blues head into the international break on a high.
Carlo Ancelotti opted to start Branislav Ivanovic at right-back and Deco at the tip of the diamond in what was an expected line-up. United were without Dimitar Berbatov so Alex Ferguson opted for a 4-5-1 formation with Wayne Rooney plowing a lone furrow up front.
The game started brightly with Ivanovic testing Van der Sar before Rooney fired into the side netting from an acute angle. With most of the game being played in a busy midfield and both defences looking solid chances proved few and far between. Anelka forced a decent stop from Van der Sar in the only notable effort of the opening 45 minutes, although United will feel aggrieved that both Rooney was flagged offside when clean through and Antonio Valencia didn’t receive a penalty when bundled over by Terry.
The second half began in similar fashion to how the first ended with Chelsea enjoying the lion’s share of possession but struggling to break down a determined United rearguard. Indeed, it was the visiting team who looked the more dangerous; first Giggs could only float a cross out of play when unmarked before Rooney twice went close. He fizzed a shot just wide from outside the box before drawing a diving stop from Petr Cech – this was the big keeper’s only real save of the whole encounter.
Ancelotti introduced Joe Cole for the ineffectual Deco and this seemed to give the Blues a new lease of life. Gradually the momentum began to swing in Chelsea’s favour, and they capped it off with a goal. Referee Martin Atkinson generously awarded the home side a free-kick for a foul on Ashley Cole by Darren Fletcher, and the ball in was touched on by first Terry and then Anelka, easily beating Van der Sar. United protested that Drogba had hauled Wes Brown to the floor (he probably had) although reports that he was offside and interfering with play are clearly not true: he was in line with the stricken Brown. Terry got the initial header towards goal but it took a faint touch off the back of Anelka’s head, and both players reeled away in celebration. Inside the ground they opted to give the goal to Terry, as have subsequent media reports, but the Dubious Goals Committee will most probably give the goal to he who got the last touch, in this case the French striker.
Rooney was booked for arguing after the goal, following two earlier bizarre decisions by Atkinson to send Ivanovic (who clearly won the ball) and Drogba (who was kicked in the chest) into the book. Evans and Carvalho were then both carded for little more than handbags.
Ferguson sent on Michael Owen and Gabriel Obertan for the final ten minutes whilst Ancelotti replaced the quiet Drogba with his compatriot Salomon Kalou. The game ended with United dominance but they lacked a cutting edge. Valencia fired well wide when found unmarked in the box but apart from that they didn’t come close to leveling the scores. On this occasion five minutes of stoppage time brought no late drama.
So Chelsea won at home again, and didn’t concede again. Their next Premier League encounter is also at the Bridge against Wolves before two tasty looking away trips at Arsenal and Manchester City. If the Blues still boast a five point lead after these three games things will be looking very good indeed.