Chelsea 3 Manchester United 3

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Drama kings United may have lost two vital title points but this spoke volumes for the challenge City face as the race for the Premier Leaguebuilds up to a Manchester crescendo.

Paul Scholes was almost demoted as the biggest comeback story of 2012 as the champions sensationally recovered from being 3-0 down at Stamford Bridge to come agonisingly close to an unforgettable victory.

On Uniteds last visit to London a fortnight ago they had a matter of minutes to digest Citys win against title rivals Spurs at the Etihad Stadium.

They picked up that gauntlet and ran with it at the Emirates against Arsenal.

Against a once league powerhouse they brilliantly took the honour in North London.

This time they had 24 hours to stew on the fact the Blues had won against Fulham and asked a new question at the top of the division.

Once again it was another faded old foe who presented the challenge in the capital.

Like the Gunners Chelsea do not pose the same fearsome test they once did on the biggest of occasions as they come to terms with the transitional period under Andre Villas-Boas.

And with old stagers like Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and John Terry all nursing injuries this was very much a new look Stamford Bridge side asking the questions.

They didnt pose that many in the opening part of the match and neither did the Reds reciprocate.

Being kind it was cagey and patient. Being honest it started off scrappy and unbelievably lacking in fluency for a Category A Premier League showdown.

Most of the spotlight centred around referee Howard Webb and how good was he at detecting the difference between genuine penalty appeals and cute conning.

Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck both failed to convince the offic! ial they had been illegally floored in the box.
Chelsea on the other hand would have been happy just to get into the box.

Every time they were in possession United professionally boxed off all avenues and the match was on the brink of dying on its feet.

But then Daniel Sturridge hoodwinked a static Patrice Evra on a rare adventure into the penalty area and his low cross from the byline came at Jonny Evans with such force the Irishman couldnt get out of the way and he diverted the ball into the net for an unlikely breakthrough.

At least it ramped up the Reds response and they finally began testing Petr Cech in Chelseas goal. Saves from Young and Welbeck kept his goal intact.

It was such an inspired and vibrant response from the champions that it was not surprising that the Reds were first out of the dressing room after the interval and seemingly itching to get their teeth into the task.

But before they could even bare their teeth they were 2-0 down.

Just 25 seconds into the second half and Chelsea hit them with an astonishing goal.

Fernando Torres floated over a deep cross and with Unityeds defence all sucked into the melee in the middle they forgot to look after Mata at the far side.

The Spanish one-two left another Spaniard David de Gea exposed and the 23-year-old Chelsea winger hammered in an outstanding volley.

Before United could absorb that shock and sniff up the smelling salts they had been dumped on their backsides again.

Four minutes after Matas strike he was delivering another left foot blow as he picked out David Luiz with a free kick.

Once again the Reds defence was disastrously late to react to the Brazilians leap leaving de Gea no chance again with the headed finish.

It may not have been his fault but his defence letting him down was the last thing the young Spaniard needed.

If United were going to repair some damage and rebuild confidence then they had to! be quic k about their response as Stamford Bridge rocked.

Fortunately Evra was upended by Sturridge in the 57th minute and Webb spotted there was no confidence trick about this one.

Wayne Rooney has not had the most positive of spot kick records and with Javier Hernandez on the pitch as a sub, the Mexican, whod scored a penalty against Stoke in midweek, might have lodged a bid for the job.

But Rooney is not fazed by past traumas and volunteered quickly and backed his confidence with a blistering shot from 12 yards.

It was a shot of confidence that fired up United and they rabidly set about shaking Chelseas belief.

Chelsea had every right to feel aggrieved that Welbeck had deceived referee Webb into awarding another penalty in the 69th minute.

Once again Rooneys shoot-out contest with Cech was a one-sided affair.

What had started out as an unwatchable clash was now a match you couldnt take your eyes off. While Chelseas composure had drained away like the slush outside the stadium the Reds were fired up for the ultimate comeback.

If Chelsea were getting ideas above their station that they could match forward without their old guard from title-winning days United exposed that premature belief.

The new look side were visibly wilting in front of their anxious fans as United piled on the pressure.

When Ryan Giggs sat up an inviting cross in the 84th minute debutant Gary Cahill and Luiz appeared to leave the clearing job to each other and Hernandez couldnt believe his luck as he headed in the equaliser.

De Gea has been the focal point of some damaging goals of late but he repaired his CV with two breathtaking stops to avoid a late winner as Chelsea showed their mettle.
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