Chelsea get the blues
As part of our Premier League snap-shots feature, Rachel Griffiths looks back on Manchester United's controversial 3-2 win over nine-man Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Last Updated: 28/10/12 11:25pm
Controversial: Fernando Torres was dismissed to reduce Chelsea to nine men
Controversy reigned as Manchester United edged a 3-2 win over nine-man Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
There were particular questions over Fernando Torres' sending-off and Javier Hernandez's winner, with referee Mark Clattenburg coming under scrutiny, but the Red Devils will be pleased to have closed the gap at the top of the Premier League to just a point.
Gary Cahill stepped in for suspended Chelsea captain John Terry and formed part of a Blues backline that endured a shaky afternoon against their visitors. The centre-half was given the run around by lively United frontman Robin van Persie, particularly early on. Eden Hazard also returned to Roberto Di Matteo's starting XI following the midweek defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk, replacing Frank Lampard. The Belgian put in a hard-working display as the Blues fought back from two goals down but Chelsea's usually astute midfield force lost its rhythm as two dismissals rocked Di Matteo's side.
England winger Ashley Young was recalled for Manchester United after more than two months out with a knee injury. Young made a spirited return, as did fellow winger Antonio Valencia, who stepped in on the opposite flank. Also back in Sir Alex Ferguson's side after their midweek win over Braga were defensive duo Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, who contributed effective shifts at the back.
Di Matteo stuck with his 4-2-3-1 formation and Chelsea struggled to deal with United's fast start as the visitors made the most of the width in their side early on. The Blues looked incredibly open down their left as Ashley Cole came under pressure, with Hazard's more advanced position meaning the left-back struggled to deal with both Valencia and Rafael. The Blues managed to pull themselves back into it as they grew into the game, with Di Matteo's midfielders proving key to the comeback, particularly the industrious Ramires and fellow goalscorer Juan Mata. However, when the Blues were reduced to nine men their attacking threat was punctured and everything went into preserving the scoreline - something they ultimately couldn't do.
United boss Ferguson ditched the diamond formation used in previous games and restored wingers to his side - a tactical move which paid dividends early on. Young and Valencia were key in upsetting Chelsea's gameplan as they helped United gain the upper hand in the opening stages, while full-back Rafael provided attacking support on the right. Robin van Persie had a prolific afternoon at the head of Ferguson's 4-4-1-1 set-up, inspiring David Luiz's early own-goal before adding the Red Devils' second soon after, while Wayne Rooney once again adopted a deeper role.
Chelsea's changes were logical ones as they went two men down, with Di Matteo bringing off all three of his midfield maestros - Hazard, Mata and Oscar. Cesar Azpilicueta was the manager's first introduction from the bench as he took over from Branislav Ivanovic at right-back following his sending off, while Ryan Bertrand was then brought on to provide cover for Cole on the left after Torres saw red, with the boss apparently playing for a draw with the scores at 2-2. However, with nothing to lose after Javier Hernandez netted United's third, Di Matteo threw on Daniel Sturridge for Hazard in an unsuccessful attempt to nab a late goal.
Ferguson was quick to make his move after Ivanovic's 63rd-minute dismissal, bringing on Hernandez following his heroics against Braga in midweek. The manager's attempt to go for the throat paid off as 'Chicharito' did not disappoint, netting 10 minutes after his introduction - even if it did appear offside. The United manager's only other change was when he took off Rooney for Ryan Giggs, with the veteran's presence in midfield helping to seal their win.
While Sunday's clash threw up plenty of entertaining football, most of the post-match talk was unfortunately centred around the refereeing decisions made by match official Mark Clattenburg. After a quiet first half which saw the referee hand out just a booking apiece to each side, the tension escalated after the break and Clattenburg had some tough calls to make. It could be argued his first was the right one as he handed Ivanovic a straight red card for clipping Ashley Young when he was through on goal. However, the sending off of Torres six minutes later caused plenty of controversy, with the striker earning a second booking for diving when it appeared he had been caught by Jonny Evans as he went to ground. With simulation a recurring theme this season it could have been the referee was making an example of the Spaniard, but the Blues will feel hard done to by the decision. They will not have been consoled by the circumstances of Hernandez's winner, which appeared to be scored from an offside position but was allowed to stand by Clattenburg.
Chelsea have now suffered back-to-back defeats after they were beaten in Europe by Shakhtar in midweek. However, the Blues remain top of the Premier League and a point clear of United, with a chance to get revenge for Sunday's defeat as the fixture is repeated in the Capital One Cup in midweek.
United will be feeling buoyed after their third successive league triumph, although even Ferguson admitted luck played its part in their victory at Stamford Bridge. Having closed the gap at the top of the table, the Red Devils will be hoping they can leapfrog the wounded Blues next weekend.