LONDON: Chelsea succumbed, angrily, to their first league defeat of the season after the double sending-off of Brane Ivanovic and Fernando Torres gifted a 3:2 win to Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.
United thus moved up second place, ahead of champions Manchester City on goal difference and to within one point of the Blues. Chelsea could not have contested the expulsion of Ivanovic by FIFA referee Mark Clattenburg but the dismissal of Torres, shortly afterwards, was a travesty.
The defeat, against one of their two toughest domestic rivals, was the worst possible end to a bad week for Chelsea after their Champions League defeat by Shakhtar in Donetsk. Referee Clattenburg was far more responsible for defeat than the absences of either John Terry (suspended) or Frank Lampard (injured).
Remarkably, United’s victory was their first success at Stamford Bridge for 10 years.
Chelsea missed John Terry through his racist comment suspension which meant there was no diplomatic issue about a Premier League comeback for Rio Ferdinand – brother of QPR’s wronged Anton Ferdinand – at the heart of United’s defence.
The European champions also missed injured Frank Lampard but manager Roberto Di Matteo set out his attacking intent by picking Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard to support Fernando Torres up front.
An extra ingredient was provided by Ashley Cole. The England fullback, whose contract expires at the end of the season,has been offered only a one-year extension by Chelsea and has reportedly become – to the irritation of Di Matteo – a target for United.
Certainly United need strengthening in defence but they need it now after infuriating and frustrating manager Sir Alex Ferguson after having given away 11 goals in their eight league games before they trotted out at Stamford Bridge.
Wayne Rooney was stepping out at Stamford Bridge for the 10th time in a red shirt without ever having known the delight of victory. Ferguson has used Rooney this season in a deeper role now that Robin Van Persie – or deputy Danny Welbeck – is there to lead the line.
United, despite missing the midfield energy of Shinji Kagawa after his twisted knee against Braga in midweek, made the sharper start and went ahead after three minutes. Rooney crossed from the right and Van Persie’s first-time shot ricocheted off Petr Cech’s left-hand post, struck David Luiz and rebounded into the net.
Eight more minutes and United were two-up. Van Persie struck his ninth goal of the season in all competitions after yet another right-wing cross, this time from Antonio Valencia.
The ease with which United had sliced open the left flank of Chelsea’s defence may have made Ferguson wonder if Cole is worth pursuing.
Chelsea, finally, pulled themselves together. Jonny Evans deflected a cross against a post and out for a corner and keeper David De Gea made fine saves from Gary Cahill and Torres. He was left helpless, however, by the free kick with which Mata fired Chelsea back into the game one minute before half-time.
The free kick had been given away by Rooney who was also yellow-carded.
Seven minutes into the second half, with the magnificent Mata pulling all the strings, Ramires headed Chelsea level from Oscar’s delicate cross. But the drama swung back decisively in United’s favour in a six-minute spell midway through the second half.
In the 62nd minute referee Clattenburg sent off Ivanovic for tripping Ashley Young. Then he red-carded Torres after showing him a second yellow card for a dive when challenging Evans for possession.
Within another six minutes United had regained the lead, conclusively, through Chicharito Hernandez. The Mexican scored with almost his first touch after having substituted for Tom Cleverley – a deliberately positive change by Ferguson to take advantage of Ivanovic’s expulsion.
Chelsea’s opportunity to take revenge could hardly come more quickly: the two teams face up again at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday in the League Cup.