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Chelsea held a 3-0 lead on Manchester United through 51 minutes of play in their massive Premier League clash on Sunday, but a combination of poor officiating and great play led to an incredible comeback and a 3-3 draw. Howard Webb granted two questionable penalties before Chicharito netted the equalizer. Chelsea almost snatched all three points late, but some great goalkeeping kept the draw intact.
The first half was incredibly dull for the first 35 minutes, save for a couple of rare interesting moments. Webb let Chelsea get away with a couple of fouls in their own area, while United created a couple of chances. The Red Devils were hardly the better side, however, and Chelsea's goal, when it finally came, was not undeserved.
Jonny Evans is the man on the box score for netting an own goal, but he was not nearly as at fault for the goal as some of his teammates. In the 36th minute, Daniel Sturridge beat Patrice Evra badly, then played a dangerous ball across the face of goal, which David De Gea got a hand to. He inadvertently punched the ball into Evans, and the ball deflected off of him into the back of the net.
The next 10 minutes were spectacular and fast-paced, but no one found another goal. Both De Gea and Petr Cech made big saves, and Chelsea went into halftime up 1-0.
Just 25 seconds after the second half kicked off, they doubled their lead. Fernando Torres, who had been inexplicably drifting out to the right on a consistent basis during the first half, somehow created a goal by doing it again. He provided a brilliant cross to Juan Mata, who finished from 12 yards out with a spectacular volley, putting his team up 2-0.
It took just five minutes for Chelsea to make it 3-0, and at that point, it seemed as if there was no way back for the Red Devils. That third goal came on a free kick, delivered by Mata and nodded in by David Luiz, who was poorly marked. United looked very much like a defeated team, and 4-0 seemed much more likely at that point than anything resembling a comeback from the Red Devils.
The comeback did come, however, and it was virtually gifted to the Red Devils by Howard Webb. The oft-maligned official is well-known for officiating a number of games in which United have been granted favorable decisions. This is not an accusation of bias -- Webb could have given a couple of penalties for United in the first half and did not -- it's simply interesting to note that this is not the first time this kind of thing has happened.
United's first penalty was borderline and could have very easily been given or not given. Evra was the man who drew it, tripping over Sturridge in the box in the 57th minute. Wayne Rooney stepped up and hit a brilliant spot kick, bringing his team back within two goals.
While the first penalty was very close and could be argued either way, the second one that United was given was never a penalty at all. Danny Welbeck was the man who drew it, running into the legs of a stationary Branislav Ivanovic. Though Welbeck initiated the contact, Webb inexplicably granted the penalty and Rooney converted again.
Chelsea had plenty of chances to put the game away, the biggest of which fell to Torres in the 76th minute. He was played into acres of space and had two separate opportunities to shoot, but unbelievably, he never pulled the trigger and ended up giving the ball away.
United would make Chelsea and Torres pay for that missed chance. While the first two goals may have been gifted to the Red Devils, their third was very much earned. Rooney started the move with a bullet of a shot in the 84th minute, which was parried away by Cech. Ryan Giggs picked up the ball off the rebound and played a great cross into the center of the goal from the left, finding an unmarked Javier Hernandez. The Little Pea isn't exactly known for scoring with his head, but he hit a brilliant header, improbably leveling the match.
Chelsea almost found a winner, but De Gea made two absolutely brilliant saves on Mata and Gary Cahill in stoppage time to preserve the improbable point. Through 51 minutes, Chelsea looked like a lock for the top four, while Manchester United looked like they were falling out of the title race. After 90, both races are still very much in play.
Ryan Giggs has helped to bail out Manchester United once again, his cross coming from the outside of the area. It was super substitute Javier Hernandez, however, who will take credit for the equalizer against Chelsea. Chicharito, with plenty of space, rose above the ailing Blues defense to head the ball past Petr Cech, who was still regretting pushing Wayne Rooney's shot into Giggs's path.
The comeback from United was admirable, although the second penalty, quite a soft one, will be a point of contention in post-match analysis. However, the point remains: Chelsea panic, Chelsea fall apart at the back. Whether it's conceding penalties or allowing space for strikers, their defense needs shoring up. Jose Bosingwa is not the answer at fullback, and it's appearing as though January buy Gary Cahill isn't going to be a miracle worker, either.
But for neutrals, this second half, with five goals between the two sides, has certainly been a thriller.
75 minutes in and David de Gea's reflexes are kicking in for Manchester United. The ball fell to Fernando Torres, who did an absolutely superb job of controlling it with his chest before letting it drop for Michael Essien. The Chelsea midfielder let off a rocket, but de Gea managed a perfect save.
Of course, what Torres will be remembered for in this match is not his fantastic ball control. It probably won't even be the drool-worthy cross he sent in to Juan Mata, setting up Chelsea's second goal. No, it'll be the Nando-esque miss that occurred shortly after the Essien strike, in which Torres just took too much time to let off a shot, cutting back and losing the ball.
Torres isn't the laughingstock that many are eager to make him out to be. But as long as he keeps scuffing the shots a striker should be putting away, he'll keep getting stick.
Are Chelsea going to manage to lose a 3-0 lead? Just seconds after Juan Mata sent in another shot on target -- which David de Gea was able to handle easily this time -- Wayne Rooney went close for Manchester United. Less than a minute later, it was Rooney again, determined to make something of this match for the visitors, forcing a save from Petr Cech.
And of course Chelsea panicked. The first goal for United came from a Wayne Rooney penalty conversion, and so would the second. Danny Welbeck took a tumble in the area, tripping over the rather large boot of Blues defender Branislav Ivanovic. Howard Webb believed it to be a foul, blowing the whistle and pointing to the spot. Rooney stepped up again, with Cech diving to his right as Rooney put the shot low and to the left.
So a 3-2 scoreline, with what we were all hoping from this match: chaos, goals, and of course, a questionable penalty.
Manchester United have finally gotten the goal that they deserved. Patrice Evra has been been culpable for at least one of Chelsea’s goals, and didn’t close Fernando Torres down quickly enough, but his run gave United a chance from the spot after Daniel Sturridge took out his back leg. It looked like just a collision between the two, but, on review, Howard Webb made the right call.
Rooney hasn’t had the best record from the spot this season, but his penalty was perfect, high and into the corner of Petr Cech’s goal. It’s galvanized United; Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez have had shots saved by Petr Cech since, and Sir Alex Ferguson took Rafael off to bring on Paul Scholes, settling the midfield, and giving Valencia more space to get forward. Wayne Rooney is getting more space, perhaps too much space, so Andre Villas Boas should respond by bringing on Oriol Romeu, a much more defensive player than Essien and Meireles.
There may be more than half an hour left, but it's all coming undone for Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. About five minutes after Juan Mata doubled Chelsea's lead off a stunning cross by Fernando Torres, David Luiz took his turn to get the glory of the Blues. Mata was involved again, sending a free kick into the area writhing with players. United left the near post uncovered, letting David Luiz rise up above and get his head on the ball. It seemed to ricochet off Rio Ferdinand, leaving David De Gea with no chance.
It's up to 3-0 now, but it's tough to believe there won't be a goal scored by the visitors. United are stunned, sure, but with Chelsea's tendency to be a bit, shall we say, lackadaisical at the back, it's not unfathomable that the Red Devils will find a way back into the game. But will it be enough to get them the three points they so desperately need?
Chelsea - Manchester United have kicked off the second half, with a Jonny Evans own goal all that separates the two sides. The big question is: Will we see an answer from the visitors in the second half?
The answer might still be yes, but United now have a bigger hill to climb. Just a minute into the second half, Fernando Torres drifted off into the right channel, the United defense barely batting an eye. But just because the Spanish striker can't, you know, score a goal, doesn't mean he's not dangerous, as the visitors discovered. Torres sent in an absolutely perfect cross, with Juan Mata waiting underneath. His Spanish compatriot had plenty of time to judge the floating cross, his finish perfect as he sent it past David De Gea.
With Chelsea now up 2-0, will United have a solution? They do have Javier Hernandez on the bench -- could it be Chicharito to save this match?
The first 35 minutes of the Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea was a bit dull, but Daniel Sturridge brought proceedings to life late in the first half, with some help from the Manchester United defense. Though United looked like the team more likely to score in the early going, it was the Blues who got on the board first, and they've taken a 1-0 lead into halftime at Stamford Bridge.
Johnny Evans has been credited for an own goal on the Chelsea goal, though he was probably the United player least at fault for the goal out of everyone involved. In the 36th minute, Sturridge blew by Patrice Evra with incredible ease before hitting a ball across the face of goal that was parried by David De Gea. The ball deflected off Evans after being pushed aside by the United keeper and deflected into the net, putting Chelsea ahead.
Other than that goal, the first half featured a hilarious sequence in the early going where four borderline fouls were committed in a matter of a minute, but Howard Webb called none of them. One of those almost fouls was a clip of Danny Welbeck's heels by Gary Cahill, where a free kick and a yellow card probably should have been given. Cahill, himself has been given a straight red for less this season.
United's best chance came in the 28th minute, on a great ball into the box by Wayne Rooney. While away from the defense, Rooney had a reasonable angle to take a shot, but instead elected to look for Welbeck with a swinging ball to the far post. He almost found his strike partner for a tap-in, but Branislav Ivanovic intervened brilliantly. Less than ten minutes later, Sturridge created Chelsea's goal.
Things seriously picked up after the goal, with both goalkeepers needing to make reasonably difficult saves. The game was played at a mostly pedestrian pace for much of the first half, but the final ten minutes were extremely frenetic. With almost the last kick of the half, Rooney unloaded on a long shot and forced a Petr Cech save. Nothing came out of the ensuing corner kick.
Both teams passed the ball poorly while playing slowly in the early going, so expect a much more intense and high-quality second half.
And we have our first goal in Chelsea - Manchester United, and the award goes to...Jonny Evans! Unfortunately for the United defender, it landed in the back of David De Gea's net. Danny Sturridge showed some fancy feet to Patrice Evra, making him look absolutely foolish as he went the wrong way, allowing the Chelsea attacker a chance from a tight angle. De Gea got a foot on it, but it bounced off the chest of Evans and back past the United keeper.
Suddenly the game has come a bit more alive. Sturridge very nearly scored his own minutes later, but De Gea managed to push it away that time, and Fernando Torres's shot wasn't quite as threatening. On the other side, Ashley Young is starting to make Branislav Ivanovic a bit nervous with his runs into the area, while Petr Cech had to react quickly to deny Danny Welbeck a goal.
Manchester United are putting a bit of pressure on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, with Antonio Valencia making a nuisance of himself against Jose Bosingwa. David Luiz managed to bail out his teammate, but couldn't clear the ball quite enough, giving Ryan Giggs the opportunity to take a shot as well.
While the visitors seem to have settled down a bit, Chelsea continue to look chaotic, uncertain of what, exactly, their plan is meant to be. Without Didier Drogba, away on international duty with the Ivory Coast, Fernando Torres leads the line -- and of course, much will be said about his inability to get a shot on target.
Rather than press forward, United seems to be of the mindset that, eventually, the Blues will screw up on their own. And it's working, with Chelsea giving away possession. Unfortunately for the visitors, United can't keep the ball, either. Everyone just looks rather...cold.
Five minutes in to Chelsea - Manchester United, and it's just not as exciting as such a match could be. Shouldn't someone have scored by now? Danny Sturridge has come closest for the home side, but other than that, the most fascinating part of the week's biggest match is Andre Villas-Boas use of the 4-2-3-1.
Quite honestly, this game looks more a mess than the day's earlier Premier League match, between Newcastle and Aston Villa. Neither squad looks settled, with both sides content to simply knock the ball clear. And with this being a typical Howard Webb match, there have been few whistles as the referee prefers to wave play on. Webb shook his head when Fernando Torres went tumbling just outside the area.
But what really cheesed off Sir Alex Ferguson was the lack of the whistle when Danny Welbeck took a tumble. Apparently Webb didn't think the challenge by Chelsea new-boy Gary Cahill was worth a card, although United certainly had an argument in their favor. Still think that Webb is in United's pocket, everyone?
As if they had America in mind, the Premier League have given the world Chelsea vs. Manchester United as the late Sunday game, just before the Super Bowl. Thanks, England! Frank Lampard is not fit for Chelsea, so they've moved Juan Mata into the center of a 4-2-3-1 setup. Manchester United will be playing Wayne Rooney just off of Danny Welbeck, with Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick in the middle. Rafael da Silva and Johnny Evans get starts, as Chris Smalling has magically disappeared. Here are the lineups.
Manchester United starting lineup (4-4-1-1): David de Gea; Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Rafael da Silva; Ashley Young, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia; Wayne Rooney; Danny Welbeck.
Kickoff is at 11:00 a.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. local time from Stamford Bridge. You can catch the game on FOX in the USA, Sportsnet World in Canada and Sky Sports 1 in the UK.
Chelsea and Manchester United both have some attacking talent and defensive liability. Goals galore? Find out at 11:00 a.m. ET, 3:00 p.m. local time from Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea and Manchester United are both dealing with a number of fitness and suspension issues heading into their massive Premier League clash on Sunday.
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