Chelsea are just two wins away from winning the Premier League after beating Manchester United 1-0 in one of the most tense matches to be played at Stamford Bridge this season.
Needing a win to all but ensure the Premiership title, Chelsea started the game quickly, putting pressure on the visitors and pressing high up the pitch when without the ball. Chelsea old boy Juan Mata was especially targeted and surrounded by those in blue. Despite that it was Manchester United who created the first chance on goal- Young found space in behind the Chelsea defence and pulled the ball back for Wayne Rooney whose left-footed shot was so close to Courtois’ right post the United fans at the far end of the ground thought it was a goal, as did David de Gea, to the great amusement of the home fans.
Following on from the first two minutes, it was Manchester United that settled into their game the quickest- putting together a series of good passing moves while Chelsea appeared happy to sit back in their half and counter-attack when they had the chance. One such incident perhaps emphasised the futility of relying on a 37-year-old in the centre-forward postion; Drogba received the ball on the left hand side and only needed to play a simple ball through the middle to Hazard who would have been clear on goal, but the pass was weak and easily collected by Chris Smalling.
Chelsea’s biggest weakness, or so it appeared, was on the wing. The usual problem of playing too narrow was once again evident, the Blues’ attacks being forced into bottle-necks that were easily dealt with by the visitors’ makeshift centre-back pairing. United, however, were able to make constructive use of the Mata and Young and either side, with Shaw and Herrera the overlapping full-backs. Chelsea biggest threat was from set-pieces, a corner just before the half hour forcing de Gea into punching the ball away and causing general confusion in the United back line. De Gea was perhaps lucky to avoid punishment when he appeared to handle a long ball with his hand when McNair, one of the United centre-backs, was caught out of position, the Chelsea fans all rising to their feet in protest, the Spaniard benefiting from the fact that Valencia was so close to him therefore blocking the official’s view.
However, against the pattern of the game Chelsea took the lead in the 38th minute when Hazard ran on from the superb back-heel flick from Oscar, who had received the ball from Fabregas in the United half, and put the ball between de Gea’s legs from six yards as Chelsea showed, as they did last week, their ability to score goals when they are not dominating the game. United forced a corner but did not threaten Courtois’ goal which, despite their possession, could be said of the first half performance generally.
Chelsea started the second half by getting forward, Hazard’s trickery once again proving troublesome but Drogba couldn’t make anything of collecting the ball in the box. When Man Utd had the ball, Chelsea continued in their habit of sitting back, but it appeared to be without being pulled all over the pitch as they were at times in the first half. Wayne Rooney, Utd’s chief attacking outlet, was surrounded when he collected the ball deeply, as he did regularly. Chelsea’s renewed potency on the counter-attack was on display when Herrera lost the ball in the middle and Drogba was let loose with just one defender between him an the goal. It was the sort of incident that five years Drogba would have exploited, but being in his late 30s the Ivorian was only able to force a save from de Gea from which Hazard was unable to convert rebound.
Man Utd’s biggest threat remained down the wing, in particular the left from which Shaw was able to effectively get behind the Chelsea back line a number of times, on one occasions winning a free kick when all Ivanovic could do was bring him down. A cross soon after was chested down by Fellaini and passed back to Rooney, the shot from whom was deflected wide. For their part, Chelsea were happy to ply their attack through the speed of Hazard and the hard work of Drogba. The Belgian had a shot on goal as the game moved beyond the 70th minute, but the pass from Azpilicueta was behind him meaning the shot lacked power. Manchester United tried to apply new pace into their efforts by bringing on Januzaj and Di Maria and Chelsea looked to strengthen further by swapping Oscar for Ramires. Falcao was the recipient of Utd’d first chance in the box when he ran from a ball in behind but could only hit the post from a tight angle.
Wayne Rooney missed a great chance from a Di Maria’s corner in the 82nd minute as Chelsea suddenly appeared vulnerable from set pieces, the free header mercifully going over. Hererrea was booked for a terrible dive in the final minute of stoppage time and when Courtois took the corresponding free kick the final whistle was blown and Chelsea had taken a massive step towards regaining the Premier League title. They will have chance to win the league away at Leicester should they beat Arsenal next week.
CHELSEA: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta, Zouma, Matic, Oscar (Ramires 67), Fabregas (Mikel 92), Hazard (Willian 94), Drogba.
Unused subs: Cech, Filipe Luis, Cuadrado, Solanke.
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, McNair, Shaw (Blackett 80), Mata (Janujaz 70), Rooney, Herrera, Young (Di Maria 70), Fellaini, Falcao.
Unused subs: Valdes, Rafael, Pereira, van Persie.
Scorer: Hazard 38