United on the brink
An entertaining 2-1 victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford put Manchester United within touching distance of a record-breaking 19th league title.
Last Updated: 08/05/11 8:00pm
It was expected to be tense and cagey, but it took Manchester United just 36 seconds to move to within touching distance of a record-breaking 19th league title in an eventual 2-1 victory over Chelsea.
The current United squad is not recognised as a classic Sir Alex Ferguson collection, however, it is now only one point away from being the group who eclipse the 18 top-flight titles of bitter foes Liverpool.
While some vintage United traits may be lacking, the characteristics of committed and brave football which have been institutionalised at Old Trafford during Ferguson's almost quarter-of-a-century-in charge have always been present.
And no more so than against closest title rivals Chelsea, in one of the most important games of the 2010/11 season, in what was a blistering opening at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon, was there evidence of United's courage in conviction.
With just more than half-a-minute on the clock, Javier Hernandez pounced on a David Luiz mistake, before, in the 23rd minute, captain Nemanja Vidic showed more desire than Branislav Ivanovic to score United's second.
After several weeks of anticipation, a brooding Carlo Ancelotti, who only used £50million Fernando Torres as a substitute after the hour mark, could not hide his fury that his players had thrown away the resurgence of a 10-game unbeaten run in the league.
An instinctive Frank Lampard goal raised some hope, but the wobbly Luiz and ineffective John Obi Mikel had both been substituted at half-time and Ancelotti can now only hope for huge favours from United's remaining opponents, Blackburn and Blackpool.
Ferguson, in contrast, can put the champagne on ice as he prepares to fulfil his pledge to 'knock Liverpool off their perch', while, having also wrecked Chelsea's European dreams, he looks forward to a Wembley UEFA Champions League final and what would be a remarkable Double.
Built up as the title decider for a week, so important Ferguson selected a shadow side for a Champions League semi-final, these matches are so often a disappointment. Not this one. Not when United were ahead so quickly.
Ancelotti must have been devastated to concede quite so simply so early in the game. Ryan Giggs began the move, stroking a short pass forward for Park Ji-sung, who turned out to be one of United's most effective players.
The South Korean knew Hernandez would be right on the shoulder of the last defender. He could not legislate for that defender failing to cut out the pass.
Ancelotti made his feelings known about that in the aftermath as he berated Luiz from the touchline. Hernandez was not hanging about to consider it, darting forward before burying his 20th goal of the season into the bottom corner.
Old Trafford erupted and then watched spellbound as their team produced an awesome display of attacking power.
Wayne Rooney was agonisingly close on two occasions, Hernandez should have tucked home Park's far-post cross despite Luiz's touch. Park himself brought an excellent save from Petr Cech.
From the latter effort, United gained the corner that brought their second as first Salomon Kalou, then Ivanovic fell asleep.
Kalou's crime was to allow Park to race past him and play a short corner with Giggs. The Ivorian was then beaten too easily as the excellent Giggs nipped to the byline before dropping a cross into the heart of Chelsea's box where Vidic strode past fellow Serb Ivanovic and powered home from close range.
Chelsea did create opportunities themselves. Edwin van der Sar made an excellent save to repel Kalou and Didier Drogba went close on a couple of occasions.
But those chances came against the backdrop of a game set up exactly as United would wish, which made the otherwise outstanding Rooney's decision to react to the baiting he was receiving from the visiting fans all the more puzzling.
Having expressed his concern about United being on the wrong end of a refereeing decision, Ferguson could at least console himself his side had established a winning position before Howard Webb turned down their penalty appeals for what seemed a clear Lampard handball to block Antonio Valencia's cross.
With no comeback in sight, Torres became the third Chelsea replacement after an hour.
Having spent big in January to land some silverware, owner Roman Abramovich must be wondering whether his £75m has been invested wisely given Luiz had understandably been taken off at the break, along with Mikel.
The changes brought the reaction Ancelotti was looking for though as Ivanovic climbed highest to reach a Ramires cross and headed down for Lampard, who prodded home from close range.
United should have snuffed the visitors' lingering hopes out immediately as Hernandez nicked possession away from Ramires and seemed to have presented Rooney with a tap-in, only for Alex to slide across to make a crucial goal-line clearance.
Rooney then spurned three chances to seal the contest, firing the first wide, inexplicably failing to even shoot with the second, before finally having an effort deflected over by Alex.
Hernandez wasted an even better opportunity when he nodded Valencia's teasing cross over from six yards.
It was all happening at the wrong end for Chelsea, apart from a Torres effort that never threatened.Indeed, the visitors were resigned to their fate long before the final whistle, with United knowing they could be celebrating history at Ewood Park next Saturday just as Manchester City are taking the field for their first FA Cup final in 30 years.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Chelsea|
|2||1st Half Goals||0|
|5||Shots on Target||7|
|5||Shots off Target||9|