Sunday, 21 September 2008

Chelsea 1 - 1 Manchester United

Manchester United gained a credible 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge but will be somewhat frustrated to not have ended Chelsea's four and a half year unbeaten home league run.

Fuelled by criticsm of their lacklustre start to the campaign, United ferociously attacked from the off, taking Chelsea by surprise with both their selection and formation. Darren Fletcher had an early shot blocked and another just wide before Rio Ferdinand galloped up the pitch, collecting a great Wayne Rooney pass but seeing his shot tipped over by Petr Cech.

While the selection of Fletcher and Park may have initially been to combat the attacking force of the Chelsea full backs, United finally got the goal their start deserved in the 18th minute. Patrice Evra collected a superb Rooney through ball and pulled it back for Berbatov - the Bulgarian saw his shot saved by Cech, but Park collected the rebound and kept his composure to slot home.

Edwin van der Sar then took centre stage - looking uncertain at a couple of corners, superbly stopping Malouda when the Frenchman was through, then finally spilling a shot just before the half hour which antagonised an injury picked up from Malouda's challenge. Tomasz Kuszczak replaced the Dutch stopper, and was forced into action to deny Malouda - though the winger was clearly offside, the Polish keeper's save was magnificent, and he had to be alert - Nicolas Anelka was similarly offside earlier in the half but the referee waved play on.

Referee Mike Riley was in nitpicking mood but his decision to book 7 United players (that will bring with it an FA fine) while allowing a number of identical Chelsea challenges to go unpunished will have done little to alter Sir Alex Ferguson's mindset after his recent comments. Chelsea certainly benefitted from the rub of the green from the officials as Riley's constant hounding of Paul Scholes forced Fergie into a change - normally, Ronaldo for Scholes would be seen as a positive move, but given the effectiveness of the formation to that point, you couldn't help but wonder if it would have a negative impact.

For a while the game became end to end - Ronaldo's width causing an extra headache for the home defence, and chances came and went at both ends - Rooney missing United's best after Ronaldo had done brilliantly to pull it back from wide left. Anelka amazingly managed to miss practically an open goal from a Joe Cole pass, as Chelsea pushed.

A Chelsea equaliser seemed inevitable - they threw all their attacking options on, and from a free kick 10 minutes from time, Kalou headed home. Kuszczak may feel he could have done better, instead the keeper stayed rooted to the spot despite the free kick being fully 40 yards out.

Far from deflate United, they stuck to their guns and pushed for a win, which made for an exciting/nervous final 10 minutes - Ronaldo, in the last moments, almost spectacularly won it for the Champions with a 20 yard overhead kick, but in the end, both sides had to settle for a point - a result nobody could argue with but one the travelling support will have cause to lament Riley's performance that was less than equal - particularly in the case of Scholes, whose treatment from the referee was a pivotal scenario, and particularly due to the impressive message United were sending.

Ratings : van der Sar 6 (Kuszczak 6), Neville 7, Ferdinand 8, Evans 8, Evra 8, *Hargreaves 8, Fletcher 8, Scholes 8 (Ronaldo 6), Park 8 (O'Shea), Rooney 8, Berbatov 6.

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