Roberto Di Matteo chose his strongest available XI for the biggest home game of the season so far. With John Terry serving the second game of his 4 match ban and Frank Lampard missing with a calf strain, the team all but picked itself.
Marko Marin was welcomed back to a strong looking bench.
This was some game. 5 goals (one offside), 2 red cards (one given to the wrong side) and a delicious Juan Mata free kick.
Not forgetting allegations of “inappropriate” language from Mark Clattenburg (Clangerburg if you prefer) to 2 Chelsea players and a formal complaint from the club.
After gifting United a 2 goal start, Chelsea dragged ourselves back into the game and looked likely to go on and win it before the wheels came off.
Its hard enough playing United with 10 men but impossible with 9. They may be a poor imitation of a vintage United side but QPR they are not.
A half of two halves as Chelsea conceded 2 goals in the first 11 minutes before hitting back on the stroke of Half Time to go into the break a goal down but with all the momentum.
Robin van Persie had an early sighter straight at Cech before Rooney drove in behind Ashley Cole (who was AWOL and I’m afraid to say, had a stinker) and crossed in low. Van Persie’s strike conspired to hit both the upright and David Luiz’s backside before crossing the goal line.
As with Shakhtar in midweek, Chelsea had conceded inside 3 minutes.
Branislav Ivanovic welcomed Evra to Stamford Bridge with a strong but fair challenge that left his opposite number more winded than wounded.
2 minutes later though, Valencia ran unchallenged into our left back area and crossed low for van Persie to apply the finish. All too easy, all too quickly and Chelsea had a mountain to climb and 79 minutes to scale it.
The Blues looked shell shocked for the next 10 minutes but we are Champions of Europe for a reason.
On 23 minutes, Ramires’ run came to an abrupt end, earning us a free kick 30 yards from goal. David Luiz has found his range with these now. His pacey side footed effort dipped over the wall and De Gea had to rely on his right boot to save his blushes as he appeared to misread the flight of the ball.
A minute later, Eden Hazard worked himself half a yard but his shot on the turn was a yard past the post and lacked devilry.
At last, Chelsea had a foothold in the game and began to dominate possession. Ivanovic’s throw found Mikel whose cross deflected off Evans and onto De Gea’s near post with him stranded. Fergie may have rued his luck in seasons gone by at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League but his side got plenty this day.
Mata’s corner was met by a strong header from Cahill and cleared for another.
Oscar and Torres were fouled in quick succession as United decided to defend what they had and were pushed ever deeper, fearful of allowing the creatives to play between the lines. Cleverley and Carrick were all but on the toes of Evans and Ferdinand as the bus was well and truly parked.
Our sustained pressure needed a goal to underpin it. De Gea did well to keep out a Torres header before Rooney went into the book for a foul on Hazard who had picked his pocket.
From the resulting free kick, Juan Mata punished De Gea for getting his weight too much onto his left side by slotting the ball just inside the post to his right and past the keeper’s despairing dive.
With a minute to go to Half Time, it was just what Chelsea needed and United were creaking. De Gea’s poor clearance was delivered back to Mata who forced him to save with his feet to prevent an equaliser before the interval.
In added time, Torres was booked for an agricultural challenge on Cleverley. It was about the only thing the latter won in a poor half from him but it would turn out have a major impact on the outcome.
Chelsea began the second half as they ended the first: dominating possession.
After an early corner was cleared, Mata’s goal bound shot was charged down. After Luiz was fouled, Hazard was adjudged offside from the resultant free kick.
Hazard then worked an opening for Mata whose shot was on target but saved by De Gea.
A minute later though the United dam was breached again. After a sustained attack, Hazard’s cross met Ramires’ head and at 2-2, Chelsea were more than back in the game: we were on top and it was there for the taking.
Hazard had a shot saved by De Gea’s feet and then shot wide after a Mata dink as the two of them threatened to run riot.
By the hour mark, Rooney had dropped so deep that his head was clearing the ball for a corner from inside the United penalty area.
Completely against the run of play, the pendulum of luck swung firmly in United’s direction.
Ashley Young vs Branislav Ivanovic one on one with a headstart was not destined to end well. Branna could not resist trying to nick the ball, missed and in the opinion of the referee, fouled Young. Contact if any, was minimal and despite Luiz keeping up, Clattenburg adjudged it a professional foul and brandished the red card.
Taking off my blue specs, had it been Ferdinand on Torres, 38,000+ Blues would have been screaming for the same outcome. Somehow though, I doubt it would have come to pass.
Rooney put the free kick over the bar to the delight of the Matthew Harding stand before Javier Hernandez replaced Cleverley, with Fergie determined to make superior numbers count.
Di Matteo sacrificed Oscar for Azpilicueta (on Premier League debut) to fill the hole at Right Back but Chelsea continued to press for a winner.
With the game entering its final quarter, Clattenburg reached for his second and decisive red card. Torres was fouled by a two footed challenge from Jonny Evans, who had already been booked.
The Chelsea faithful shouted “off, off, off” and the referee obliged. Evans’ face was a picture of apology. De Gea shook his head. No one could quite believe it.
The card was for Torres. Despite a hole in his sock, he was booked for simulation as 2 yellows turned to red.
Van Persie blazed a shot way into Row Z but United knew it was only a matter of time before the knockout blow would come.
To add insult to injury, Hernandez was offside when he turned the ball in from close range.
Again removing my Blue specs, it was similar to Torres’ goal against Reading (also offside) and that one went for us.
For some sections of the crowd however, the preceding 15 minutes were too much to bear. A steward slipped and hurt his knee as objects were thrown on the pitch, followed by indignant chants of “3-2 to the referee”.
Chelsea were bowed but not broken. A surging run from Luiz fed Ramires whose shot was powerful but over the bar.
Hazard twisted, turned and teased the United backline but there was no centre forward to finish off his cross.
United made their numerical advantage pay as Chelsea could not fill all the gaps. Hernandez scuffed a good chance before Sturridge replaced Hazard.
Hernandez then shot over after Young played him in.
Despite 5 minutes of added time, Chelsea could not fashion another opportunity.
Graeme Souness and Gary Neville, hardly Chelsea through and through, were both incredulous after the game, not quite able to believe what they had seen. Neither could anyone else in the ground, regardless of their allegiance.
Bouncebackability: 10/10 for the fight we showed to get back into the game after a shocking start.
Juan Mata: its like a stuck record but the hottest player in the Premier League was fantastic. Again.
John Mikel Obi: arguably outshined Ramires in the double pivot once the Blues hit their stride. Covered the chasm left on our left when Ashley Cole went missing (as he did a number of times in the first half).
Ashley Cole: If anyone wanted to question giving him more than a one year extension, watch the rerun of this game and you’d have plenty of ammunition. He repeatedly went missing as Valencia, Rooney and Rafael overloaded on the United right. Once in the first 11 minutes is unfortunate, twice is unacceptable.
Branislav Ivanovic: I can argue a yellow may have been fairer but Ashley Young still had plenty to do before Branna’s ill fated attempt to win the ball. The 3 match ban will be ably deputised by Cesar Azpilicueta but the Red Card was both costly and avoidable.
Fernando Torres: Yes, unfortunate to be sent off when he was but arguably could have gone before for a challenge of sorts on Ferdinand. Another below par performance that some were blaming on tiredness. He now has Wednesday night off.
Moment of the match
For all the wrong reasons, Torres’ sending off. Literally, a game changer.