|photo by OliBac||via PhotoRee|
Juan Mata led visiting Chelsea to a narrow 1-0 victory over a flat and disjointed Manchester United in a game that showcased more fireworks in the final five minutes than it did in the previous 85. Continuing their rather inexplicable hoodoo over the home side, Chelsea managed to not only beat the Reds, but pull off something no other team has done in quite some time -- shutting out United at home -- and tightened their grip on third place in the crucial Champions League race.
The Blues looked threatening right from the get go, with Juan Mata picking out Demba Ba in front of Anders Lindegaard, but the quickness of the Spaniard's cross took the Chelsea forward by surprise and the opportunity went begging. The visitors spread the field and plied early pressure upon their hosts, with a number of Chelsea players unsuccessfully testing the Danish goalkeeper in the opening twenty minutes.
For their part, the home side waited until the ninth minute to get their attack started, but for the most part it was all bark and no bite in the game's early going. For a second week running it was the champions looking ragged on both sides of the ball in the first half, and laboring to get their game in gear.
With the first half gone, the somewhat tame affair had been largely dominated by the visitors, although a flurry of opportunities for the home side, including Robin Van Persie's attempt to steer in Ryan Gigg's 30 yard pass just before the whistle, was perhaps a sign that they could build on for the second forty five.
Unfortunately, the promising end to the the first half foreshadowed little -- but play resumed with some drama nonetheless. David Luiz' attempt to draw a foul in the United box served to showcase the Brazilian's thespian skills, but fortunately for the home side Referee Howard Webb was not taken in by the theatrical playacting -- for now.
Although the clock showed 10 shots for each side as the game passed the hour mark, it was one of those occasions in which it was difficult to remember more than one or two opportunities from each side.
Webb neglected to overlook Juan Mata's dramatics in the 67th minute, and with both the Spaniard and David Luiz standing over the ball, Lindegaard would surely have been nervous. Fortunately for the Dane, the wall held firm and he was never called into action. Wayne Rooney and Alexander Buttner were called into action by Sir Alex, replacing Anderson and Tom Cleverley, as the United boss sought to instill some further threat into the toothless attack with just over 20 minutes left.
Chelsea changed Ba for Victor Moses, and immediate created a flurry of corner kicks which profited them nothing. But Patrice Evra's completely unnecessary 82nd minute foul at the top of the box was a dangerous chance for the visitors -- as the ball sailed high and wide the exhalation throughout the stadium was audible. Still, it was Chelsea searching for the winning goal as the clock droned ever onward.
When Lindegaard did fail it was on one of the softer shots of the night -- the deflection off Jones was just enough to throw off the Dane and hand Chelsea the win. Rafael's red card at the end threw a little levity into the occasion -- one Brazilian kicking out at another who should not have even been on the pitch.
This is farlieonfootie for May 6.
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