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There was more than enough buildup for Chelsea's visit to Manchester United in what was essentially an English Premier League title decider. Two of England's biggest clubs battling it out for England's biggest trophy doesn't need many superfluous adjectives to build excitement. By the end of the day though, only the Red Devils could be described as excited, while the Blues were left to wonder "what if" after the home side grabbed a 2-1 win at Old Trafford and all but clinched the 19th league title in the club's storied history.
Heading into the season, United were even with Liverpool on 18 league titles, tied for the most in England. They thought last season would be the one that they moved ahead of the Reds, but two losses to Chelsea left them one point behind the eventual champion Blues. If United were to win the title this season, they would have to do what they couldn't do a year ago and defeat Chelsea. That is exactly what they did on Sunday, moving six points clear of the Blues with just two matches left to play.
It didn't take long for the Red Devils to strike either. Just 36 seconds into the match, Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez got in behind the Chelsea defense. In alone on goal, Chicharito slotted the ball past a helpless Petr Cech for an amazingly quick tally. Chicharito was only in alone on Cech because of some shoddy defending by David Luiz, something that isn't particularly surprising considering his gaffes this season. Luiz first kept Chicharito onside, then missed in his sliding attempt to block the pass, leaving Chicharito with just Cech in front of him and all the time in the world.
If a goal within a minute didn't assert Manchester United's dominance, the following minutes did. The Red Devils knocked the ball around with aplomb, constantly threatening the Blues' back line as Chelsea and leaving Chelsea looking lost. Wayne Rooney unleashed a vicious shot on goal, only to be denied by Cech. Chicharito swung and missed at an open net, only for replays to show that the slightest of touches by Luiz forced the miss. Rooney almost scored again with a shot just wide of the post. United were on the front foot and Chelsea were stunned.
Meanwhile, Chelsea could count themselves lucky not to be down to 10 men. Branislav Ivanovic was booked early on and twice more committed bookable offenses, but referee Howard Webb showed some leniency in allowing him to stay on the pitch.
In the 24th minute, United all but won the trophy with a Nemanja Vidic goal that put the home side up 2-0. The Red Devils took a short corner kick, playing the ball to Ryan Giggs who played an absolutely perfect ball to Vidic in front of goal. As good a ball as it was from Giggs, Vidic was inexcusably unchallenged right in front of goal for the simple finish.
Finally after going down two goals Chelsea showed life, but it wasn't enough to really scared Edwin van der Sar. Carlo Ancelotti made a pair of halftime changes with Alex coming on for Luiz and Ramires entering for John Obi Mikel, but it didn't make enough of the impact that the Blues needed. Neither did the substitution of Fernando Torres for Solomon Kalou later on as the Blues lacked the creativity in the attack or bite in the defense to grab the league crown.
United would argue that they should have had the chance to make it 3-0 not long after halftime. A low cross clearly hit the arm of a sliding Frank Lampard with the arm nowhere near his body, but Webb did not see fit to give it. Of course if there is to be some criticism of Webb, it would also be fair to mention an elbow by Rooney in the first half that caught Luiz in the face for which he only earned a yellow card.
Chelsea finally got a goal in the 68th minute when a cross was headed towards goal by Ivanovic. The header would have never beaten van der Sar, but Lampark was right there in front of goal to give it a solid kick for the Blues' first goal of the match. It would also be the Blues' only goal of the match, but it did breathe some life into the final 20 minutes.
With a goal in their pockets, Chelsea pushed for more and had a good shout for a penalty in the waning minutes. Torres found space and unleashed a strike towards goal, only it didn't make it to net. Instead, the ball hit Antonio Valencia on the arm, but once again Webb waved away the penalty despite the contestation of the replays.
Manchester United are the walking wounded at the moment, as all of Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, and Fabio Da Silva have picked up knocks of some kind in a matter of a few minutes. All three appear to be fine at the moment, and what looked like it would be some awful luck has actually turned into good luck, since none of the three men have seriously injured themselves when any of them could have easily. Both Ferdinand and Evans appeared to twist their knees in an odd way after awkward landings, while Fabio picked up his knock in a 50-50 challenge. This is either a very odd coincidence or really bad time wasting.
Just after the restart, Howard Webb denied a clear penalty again, but this time on the Chelsea side. Once again it was a clear handball that Webb missed, as a Fernando Torres shot went straight into the arm of Antonio Valencia. However, Webb didn't see it.
Well, may we have a decent game in store after all? Chelsea have been slowly picking up steam all half, but they haven't really looked like the goal was certainly coming at any time. Still, in the 68th minute, the Blues have scored on Manchester United, and this title race isn't quite over yet. Chelsea still have to score two more goals to get back to controlling their own destiny, but with the scoreboard flashing 2-1, this isn't as dire as it once looked.
Ramires created the opportunity, hitting a cross into the center of the box where a group of blue shirts were waiting. Branislav Ivanovic, who has no business being on the pitch at the moment to be completely honest, rose above everyone to get his head to the ball. His header was low and probably on its way to being saved by Edwin van der Sar, but Frank Lampard got his toe to the ball, poking it into the back of the net to give Chelsea an unexpected lifeline.
Finally, a Fernando Torres sighting! Using up his last available substitution, Carlo Ancelotti has brought Fernando Torres into the game for Chelsea, replacing Solomon Kalou. The Ivorian international had been very good in his previous four games for Chelsea, but he's been ineffective against Manchester United today, though it's hard to determine to what degree his performance's shortcomings are his fault.
Torres finally has the monkey off his back, having scored for Chelsea in the Premier League, but breaking the curse wasn't enough to get him into the starting lineup for tonight's game. It wasn't a bad decision by Ancelotti, as Didier Drogba has probably been the closest Chelsea player to "effective" during this poor performance, but it's still a sad indictment of the start of Torres' Chelsea career that a £50 million man isn't first choice for the biggest games.
If he scores a hat trick, he'd probably establish himself as a Chelsea hero while re-establishing himself as a Liverpool hero in the same game.
So much for that whole "Howard Webb favors Manchester United" conspiracy theory. Chelsea have committed all kinds of offenses in this game that Webb has let slide, no more glaring than Frank Lampard's 51st second handball in the box. Sliding down to block a cross, Lampard obviously contacted the ball with his hand, which was well away from his body. Webb missed it, and did not grant United a penalty. Just one minute later, Solomon Kalou committed a blatant dive in an attempt to get Nemanja Vidic booked, and was not carded.
This is in addition to Branislav Ivanovic's multiple yellow card offenses in the first half, but it's not like Webb's being biased, he's just simply not having a great game. He's missed calls going the other way as well, but of course, referees are human and big games are hard to officiate. Perhaps he's giving each team the benefit of the doubt and comments by players and managers to the media about Mr. Webb have gone to his head.
Chelsea FC have started the second half against Manchester United by making the two changes that were hinted at before halftime, bringing Alex on for David Luiz and Ramires on for John Obi Mikel. Luiz had a shocking start to the game, and he looked like he might not be 100 percent fit. Mikel, on the other hand, was simply poor. The Nigerian international was completely ineffective in denying any service to or shot opportunities by Wayne Rooney, and as a result, he has been pulled for a more attack-minded player as Chelsea chase goals.
Nothing less than three goals in 45 minutes will do for Chelsea, so there's no time for them to get into a groove. They have to go Charlie Sheen on this match and have one gear, GO, in their push towards a win. It looks as if the title race is already over, but Chelsea still have 45 minutes to turn it on its head.
Chelsea FC have had a truly atrocious first half in their English Premier League title decider against Manchester United, and they are rightfully down 2-0 at the break. The first goal was scored just 36 seconds in by Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, assisted by a Park Ji-Sung through ball, and Nemanja Vidic added another with a 23rd minute header, nodding in a sublime Ryan Giggs cross following a corner kick.
The Blues have offered little opposition in the first 45, and their defending on both of the goals was terrible. Wayne Rooney has been allowed free reign in the center of the pitch, as John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien have done next to nothing to oppose him. It would be unfair to call their tackling poor, as they haven't really been attempting tackles at all.
Chelsea are rumored to be making two changes at halftime, and neither of them is Fernando Torres. Both Alex and Ramires are warming up, and are expected to be introduced into the game by Carlo Ancelotti.
An epic comeback could be in the cards if Chelsea magically show up and play like a team desperate to win a title in the second half, but based on their start and Manchester United's play thus far, that would be a truly stunning twist to this game. The midfield of Mikel, Essien, and Frank Lampard has been completely outplayed, and Ancelotti has massive adjustments to make if his team are to make this remotely interesting.
Whether it be a vicious elbow, an unintentional hit, or a light grazing, depending on your point of view, Wayne Rooney has made contact with the face of David Luiz and as a result, has been shown a yellow card. Some may see it as a straight red card, as it appeared that elbow met grill, but Rooney also looked to attempt to avoid Luiz after jumping towards him when he realized he wasn't going to win the ball. It was much more stupid than it was malicious, but it's hard to determine intent and unfair to take it into consideration when contemplating a sending off.
Branislav Ivanovic, who is on a yellow card, also narrowly avoided sending off minutes later, in the 41st minute, as he made a cynical challenge from behind on Rooney. Howard Webb opted not to show a yellow card, keeping it in his pocket on the second occasion on which he could have easily sent off Ivanovic.
Late into the first half, nothing has yet gone right for Chelsea. They've had some near misses with a couple of Solomon Kalou shots and a Didier Drogba free kick that missed wide, but the Blues have been entirely average so far, and they're not exactly scaring United. Between United's comfort with their lead and Chelsea's desperation, the visitors are starting to get a lot more of the ball, but they don't look terribly threatening. And even if they did, it would have been nice if they had shown up to the stadium about 30 minutes ago.
The Manchester United fans are cheering right now, but this is a bit of a downer not just for Chelsea fans, for whom "a bit of a downer" would be a massive understatement, but for neutrals. This one already feels over after just 30 minutes, and it's really killed the buzz around this game as a close title decider.
It appears to be all over now, as Manchester United are now up 2-0 on Manchester United after 24 minutes of play. Nothing but a win will do for Chelsea, who now have to score three goals while conceding none to get back into the English Premier League title race. Nemanja Vidic is the scorer, putting in a header off of a corner kick, and the crowd at Old Trafford is celebrating like they've already won the title.
The corner kick was created by a Park Ji-Sung shot when Chelsea was expecting a cross, shocking Petr Cech and forcing him to simply palm the ball out of bounds. United took the corner short, setting up a Ryan Giggs cross into the box. Chelsea's marking on the set piece was horrendous, and Vidic was able to nod the ball into the back of the net virtually uncontested. It was a great ball in by Giggs, but the lack of opposition to Vidic was totally inexcusable.
It's taken 19 minutes, but Chelsea have finally managed to create something that resembles a scoring opportunity. Florent Malouda started the move with a cross into the box, but Didier Drogba mistimed his jump as he went up for the header. Edwin van der Sar didn't deal with the cross, despite this mistake by Drogba, and the ball ended up falling to Solomon Kalou after a bit of a scramble. He took a shot from 15 yards out, but it was easily gathered by the United goalkeeper. One minute later, Kalou had another shot on target, but it was once again easily saved.
Branislav Ivanovic, who is carrying a yellow card, seriously got away with a bad foul in the 21st minute, as he took down Wayne Rooney unfairly in the center of the pitch, about 35 yards away from goal. Rooney complained to the referee that Ivanovic should see a second yellow card, but Howard Webb was having none of it.
Manchester United continue to pile the pressure onto Chelsea FC, as they get closer and closer to scoring a second goal to take a crippling lead on Chelsea. This time, Wayne Rooney is the man who has gone close. After a fantastic run by Antonio Valencia down the right wing, the Ecuadorian played the ball inside, setting up a great move that resulted in a 20 yard low drive by Rooney, who missed the far post by just inches.
It was thought in the build-up to this match that Chelsea's change to a 4-3-3 formation would allow them to pick up Rooney as he drops into the midfield and therefore, allow them to fare better than they did in their Champions League quarterfinal tie, but that has not been the case so far. Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel have done absolutely nothing to diminish Wayne Rooney's influence on the game.
Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez has almost scored again for Manchester United, and Chelsea have David Luiz to thank for not being down 2-0 already. In the 11th minute, it appeared that Hernandez had a simple tap-in at the back post, but as the ball fell to him he swung and missed. It looked like a sitter at full speed when it was shown live, but upon replay, we can see that David Luiz just barely got a toe to the ball, throwing off Chicharito's timing and causing him to miss.
In the 13th minute, Branislav Ivanovic picked up a yellow card for a poor challenge from behind on Wayne Rooney. Though United haven't made their 1-0 lead worse on Chelsea, the blues are lucky that the lead is only one goal, as their nightmare start to this game continues. Chicharito's near goal and Ivanovic's yellow just add to the pile of negatives that Chelsea have started building.
Things haven't gotten a whole lot better for Chelsea since they gave up that first minute goal to Javier Hernandez, as Manchester United have received a giant confidence boost from their incredible start. Chelsea are struggling to connect with their passes early on, which wouldn't be a giant problem in the first five minutes of both games. However, they're already 1-0 down, and anything but a win takes them out of the title race.
United already have the second best chance of the game as well, as Wayne Rooney has forced Petr Cech into a spectacular save in the 8th minute. Picking up the ball around 40 yards from goal, Rooney was not closed down at all and was given plenty of space to shoot. He took his opportunity, unleashing a fierce drive from 30 yards out, in the center of the pitch, to the right of Cech. Cech made a brilliant diving save, and nothing came of the ensuing corner kick.
We're underway from Old Trafford, as Manchester United and Chelsea FC fight for the English Premier League title...ait it's taken just 35 seconds for the Blues to gift the Red Devils a dream start! Manchester United lead 1-0 after just one minute, and the Chelsea bench is in a state of absolute disbelief. Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez is the goal scorer, continuing his unbelievable debut season.
Hernandez has been stellar all year for United, proving to be a frugal buy, but not even the most optimistic of fans could have envisioned this start. Counter-attacking after Chelsea lost possession, United surged up the field, and Park Ji-Sung played a great through ball to Chicharito through the middle. The Chelsea defense completely fell asleep and failed miserably at an offside trap as Hernandez blazed by them, getting onto Park's ball with no opposition before placing it into the back of the net.
Incredibly, Carlo Ancelotti already has Alex warming up, as David Luiz has had an absolutely shocking first two minutes to this game.
Unlike Chelsea FC, who had no surprises, Manchester United have one small surprise in their lineup, as Patrice Evra misses through injury. Evra was questionable for this match, but most thought that he would, at the very least, make the bench. Instead, he's been left out entirely, and Fabio da Silva will play left back. Darren Fletcher is also out, as he continues to recover from a virus that caused him to lose a substantial amount of weight.
Javier Hernandez starts up top as expected, with Wayne Rooney behind him. Alex Ferguson has also opted to give Fabio some help on the left instead of attacking full-out, putting Park Ji-Sung in front of him and leaving Nani on the bench. Here is the full lineup with substitutes.
Everything is as expected in the Chelsea FC lineup for their English Premier League title deciding clash against Manchester United, as they have gone with their expected 4-3-3 formation with Fernando Torres on the bench. Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda were all but locked into starting spots on the front like, and it's Solomon Kalou who has grabbed the last spot.
Carlo Ancelotti has opted to start John Obi Mikel in the center of midfield over Ramires, looking for size and tackling ability over the pace and flair of Ramires. It's not an inherently defensive move, though, as Mikel is a bit of an underrated passer. Here's the full lineup, with starters and substitutes.
Paulo Ferreira was brought to Chelsea FC with a lot of hype, but he's never really lived up to it. That's not to say that Ferreira is a poor player, he's just never become a world beating fullback. Jose Bosingwa was brought in for a substantial sum of money after a poor year by Ferreira in the 2007-08 season, and Branislav Ivanovic has proven to be easily the best defensive option of the three over the last two seasons. So, who will start against Manchester United?
Graham MacAree at We Ain't Got No History surprisingly makes the case for Ferreira in his preview of Chelsea's game against Manchester United. While Ferreira's skills are limited, this actually makes a bit of sense.
I am going to do something insane here and propose that Paulo Ferreira starts. We know that United are comfortable with giving Branislav Ivanovic the ball and watching him overhit cross after cross, and they'll probably design their defence around disregarding the right side in exchange for pinning back Cole on the left. Ferreira, while obviously not the defender Ivanovic is, can threaten going forward in a way the Serbian can't, making him an interesting (if risky) selection here.
Personally, I think that the selection of Ferreira over Ivanovic is dependent on who Carlo Ancelotti thinks Alex Ferguson will play on the left side of midfield. If it's Nani, then Ivanovic is probably the man for the job. If it's Park Ji-Sung, I say you go out guns blazing with Ferreira.
In what seems like a rare occurrance, multiple teams control their own destiny in a huge game close to the end of the English Premier League season. With the title races in Germany, Italy, and Spain having been all but decided for some time, some higher power felt might have felt the need to give us a great title decider, and thus, Manchester United vs. Chelsea FC was born. If United win, they will almost certainly win the title. If the match ends in a draw, United will almost certainly win the title. If Chelsea win, they capture first place and control their own destiny.
Chelsea come into the game with a clean bill of health, while United have some slight doubts. Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney have some nagging fitness issues, but they'll probably make starts. Darren Fletcher has just come back after a long lay-off due to a bad virus that caused him to lose a ton of weight, and he is not yet 90 minutes fit. Fletcher is a key component to United's team when he is available, but he's been away long enough that Alex Ferguson has adapted to life without him.
Though they were well beaten at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League not too long ago, Chelsea played an odd flat 4-4-2 setup in that match, leaving Wayne Rooney to do whatever he wanted. The Blues have since reverted to a 4-3-3 setup, and that should make Rooney's life much more difficult. Due to Dimitar Berbatov starting mid-week against Schalke, while Anderson and Paul Scholes played in the middle, it seems safe to assume that Javier Hernandez, Michael Carrick, and Ryan Giggs will get the nod on Sunday.
Chelsea's biggest selection question will be whether or not they want to throw Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres into the same team. Solomon Kalou is in solid form and a more natural fit than either Drogba or Torres on the right, but there's certainly something to be said for finding a way to get your best talent on the field. Form and fit aside, Torres and Drogba are unquestionably two of Chelsea's 11 most talented players.
The title is there for whoever wants it more. On Sunday, each team will decide their own fate.
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