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.