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.