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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Manchester United Vs. Chelsea Match Report

At the start of a crucial week in United’s season, the Reds sent out a defiant message of intent with an impressive 3-0 victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford. Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov scored the goals on a weekend where United got under the skin of both major title rivals.

United, who started the match eight points behind league leaders Liverpool, could feasibly be top of the table by the time Liverpool play their next league fixture, a difficult Merseyside derby a week on Monday. That would require United also beating Wigan on Wednesday at home, and Bolton Wanderers away next weekend. But phase one – beating Chelsea – was comfortably completed on Sunday.

The chaotically congested first half to the season required laying of foundations, and if a game against Chelsea early in 2009 wasn’t enough to announce that the title race really is gathering pace, Rafael Benitez’s bizarre rant on Friday lit the blue touchpaper ahead of a significant weekend in the Premier League calendar. Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with Stoke City presented United – and Chelsea, of course – with the chance to really pressure the league leaders.

For Sir Alex, Rio Ferdinand’s absence was a disruption, but the able Jonny Evans again deputised for Rio, who has missed four matches prior to this clash. Michael Carrick was a surprise omission, kept on the bench with Ryan Giggs starting in the centre of midfield alongside Darren Fletcher. But the Welshman was hugely influential.

Sir Alex predicted in his programme notes that he didn’t expect a goal frenzy, and the early exchanges suggested as much with few clear chances. Chelsea postured with possession football, while United hinted at an intent to break sharply from midfield with Giggs and Park’s surging runs.

On 22 minutes United claimed a penalty when Ashley Cole handled Ronaldo’s cross. But the linesman signalled a free-kick instead, which television replays seemed to support, and Petr Cech was forced to punch clear Ronaldo’s inswinging shot. Another set-piece two minutes later from the Portuguese – this time after Deco’s foul on Rooney – was deflected wide.

Howard Webb seemed determined to be at the top of the bill, needlessly brandishing four bookings in the first half an hour, which merely served to increase the tension on an already high-pressure encounter. Disappointingly there were more yellow cards than clear scoring opportunities in the first half. One of United’s best fell to Dimitar Berbatov after half an hour, but his scuffed left-foot shot caused Cech little bother.

United looked more and more threatening as the half progressed. Park was unlucky when a good move involving Giggs, Berbatov and Ronaldo created space for the Korean to shoot, but his attempt was blocked by John Terry.

The Reds were denied a perfectly legitimate goal at the end of the first half when a clever corner routine between Rooney and Giggs proved too clever for the officials. Rooney rolled the ball out of the ‘D’, but pretended that he was leaving the corner for Giggs to take. Without Chelsea realising it, the ball was in play and the Welshman took it goalwards before crossing for Ronaldo to head home. But the perplexed officials disallowed it. Ingenuity of this kind should not be punished, but justice was nevertheless done on the retake, as Vidic headed Berbatov’s flick-on past Cech.

United began the second half with greater control than at the start of the match. The Reds stroked the ball around confidently. And the patience soon paid off. Ronaldo’s backheel down the left found Evra and his cross was side-footed home from a jubilant Rooney. Old Trafford immediately belted out renditions of ‘we shall not be moved’ and ‘are you watching Merseyside’.

Ronaldo went close with two late efforts, one a deflected free-kick which Cech had to tip over, and another long-range effort that fizzed narrowly wide. The Portuguese had a significant influence on United’s third goal, though he did not score it. Ronaldo’s fearsomely struck free-kick from wide on the right was slammed home by Berbatov to complete an emphatic win for the Reds.

If this was indeed the weekend the title race really started to hot up, United responded by scorching a team many still claim could be the Reds’ fiercest rivals.

Manchester United Vs. Chelsea Highlights Video Clip

Manchester United [3 - 0] Chelsea
45' [1 - 0] N. Vidic
63' [2 - 0] W. Rooney
87' [3 - 0] D. Berbatov

1-0 N.Vidic 45'

2-0 W.Rooney 63'

3-0 D.Berbatov 87'