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Chelsea 2-1 Man United


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Chelsea F.C. 2 - 1 Manchester United

April 26 2008, Premier League, Stamford Bridge, West London


Michael Ballack's brace meant Chelsea emerged victorious in their table-topping clash with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

In a moment that left Sir Alex Ferguson red in fury, the German captain stayed ice-blue as he expertly dispatched the spot-kick. It was the sharp eye of the assistant referee that awarded the penalty kick, and all of Stamford Bridge waited with baited breath as Ballack stepped up. Some could not watch, hiding behind their match programmes as Edwin van der Sar was booked for delaying the kick. But Ballack, arguably the coolest head in West London, did not falter. It was a foregone conclusion when the former Bayern Munich playmaker placed the ball on the spot; for Germans and penalty kicks compliment each other so well.

The result leaves the two sides separated only by the superior goal difference of the Red Devils, with just two fixtures remaining in the Premier League. Chelsea took the lead through Ballack on the stroke of half-time before a rare error from Ricardo Carvalho saw Wayne Rooney equalise for Sir Alex Ferguson's side. However a Michael Essien cross was handled by Michael Carrick and Michael Ballack belted the ball beyond Edwin van der Sar to earn his side a deserved victory.

With one eye on Wednesday's Champions League second leg against Liverpool, Avram Grant elected to field John Obi Mikel in midfield, replacing the rested Claude Makelele, whilst Salomon Kalou replaced Florent Malouda in the left wing position. Frank Lampard was absent following the death of his mother, so Michael Essien returned following European suspension.

Manchester United fielded a highly-changed team, with Ryan Giggs and Anderson amongst the players drafted into their starting line-up. Wayne Rooney began up front and Nemanja Vidic returned from a knee injury, but both Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo were both relegated to the substitute's bench with a key game against Barcelona on Tuesday evening.

The opening changes saw Chelsea dominate, enjoying the majority of possession and fashioning chances right from the off - a clear indication of their desire to push the Red Devils right to the wire. Michael Essien's dipping volley flew narrowly over whilst Joe Cole lashed a drive from 10 yards against the woodwork. Chelsea's superiority was underlined by the amount of chances they were creating, but despite forcing Edwin van der Sar to race off his line to deny Kalou and Joe Cole, the home side were failing to create clear-cut opportunities.

Sadly, Nemanja Vidic was stretchered off with a mouth injury after the defender had collided with Drogba. The Serbian went to clear with his head but was caught by the Ivorian's knee, forcing one of his teeth to slice open his lip and upper gum. Apparently concussed, he was replaced by Owen Hargreaves; the former Bayern Munich man moving to right-back.

Chelsea were forcing United into their own half and it was the drive of Essien, the power of Drogba and the trickery of Kalou that left Wayne Rooney isolated against John Terry and the ever-impressive Ricardo Carvalho. On the few occasions they did venture forward, United's build-up was halted by the excellence of Ashley Cole, who was offering nothing to Luis Nani.

The Blues were rewarded for their excellent first half display when Ballack headed home. Drogba exchanged passes with Joe Cole before launching a teasing cross between the United centre-halves and van der Sar, allowing Ballack room to head beyond the Dutch goalkeeper.

Following the break, Chelsea continued to pass at speed and at times imitated the free-flowing movement of their great rivals, yet it was their efficiency that was proving decisive until Ricardo Carvalho's error allowed Wayne Rooney to level matters.

Paulo Ferreira's freekick was played to the centre-back's feet, but the Portuguese carelessly passed straight to Rooney, who smashed the ball beyond Cech with aplomb. United were somewhat fortunate with the way their equaliser was fashioned, but Sir Alex Ferguson's side had stepped up a gear since the half-time interval and Giggs and Anderson were beginning to make a bigger impact on the game. Yet despite this, further injury woe hit the champions, as Rooney was forced to limp off after pulling his groin, and was replaced by Cristiano Ronaldo.

United were in the ascendancy and it took a good save from Cech to deny Giggs. The Welshman fashioned the opportunity well, teasing John Terry before smashing the ball goalwards, only for the Czech goalkeeper to deflect the ball wide with his knee.

But Chelsea were not to be denied and would have taken an 80th minute lead but for a good save from Edwin van der Sar - the Dutch goalkeeper spreading himself well to smother Drogba's wonderful freekick. Chelsea were taking heart from their defensive display, and Ashley Cole was beating Ronaldo with every tackle. Eventually, their pressure told and they regained the lead thanks to Ballack.

Essien's driven cross was judged to have been handled by Carrick, and Alan Wiley made no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Ballack stepped up and sent van der Sar the wrong way, and Chelsea survived late pressure from the champions to earn three points. First Ashley Cole denied Ronaldo before Shevchenko's volleyed clearance signalled the end for United, who slumped to their fifth defeat of the season.

But for Chelsea, the title is still very much a realistic target.

Match Fact : Chelsea are unbeaten in 81 home league matches and 101 in all domestic competitions.

Chelsea: Cech (6), Ferreira (6) (Anelka (6)), Carvalho (7), Terry (7), Ashley Cole (8), Ballack (9), Obi (7), Essien (9), Kalou (6) (Shevchenko (6)), Drogba (6), Joe Cole (7)(Makelele (6)).

Man United: Van der Sar, Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic (Hargreaves 14), Silvestre, Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson (O'Shea 65), Nani, Rooney (Ronaldo 63), Giggs.

Attendance: 41,828

Referee: Alan Wiley

Man of the Match : Michael Essien


Edited by BlueLion
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