The champions beat Chelsea 3-1 thanks to goals from Chris Smalling, Nani and Wayne Rooney in an action-packed clash at Old Trafford. Although Fernando Torres replied for the Londoners at the start of the second half, his dreadful late miss only added to the ecstatic mood around the ground.
Sir Alex’s side could even afford a missed penalty from Rooney and several spurned chances en route to a fifth straight victory in the Barclays Premier League to go two points clear at the top of the table.
United were slower into stride than in this fixture last term, and yet still led after only eight minutes. David De Gea had been called into drastic action to kick away a Ramires shot early on but the opener soon arrived, in front of the Stretford End.
Ashley Young was fouled and swung the free-kick over for Smalling to bury an unstoppable header for his first league goal for the Reds. Replays showed the defender may have been marginally offside and the goal provoked a decent response from the visitors. When Anderson passed the ball straight to the Spaniard, Old Trafford held its breath but the £50million man dragged his shot wastefully wide of the far post.
De Gea caught a Bransilav Ivanovic header and saw Frank Lampard lash wide, after the England international midfielder rightly escaped a handball shout inside his own area. There was an almighty let-off on 26 minutes when Torres was onside and in the clear but squared the ball.
Ramires stretched to force a wonderful, improbable stop from De Gea with Daniel Sturridge waiting behind for a simple tap-in.
The Reds no.1 gathered the resulting corner at the second attempt and also kept out an unmarked Sturridge while Torres sent an unconvincing overhead kick wide as Chelsea had few problems creating chances. But Nani showed them how to finish with a piece of individual magic, collecting Jonny Evans’ diagonal pass, advancing on goal and fizzing a firecracker of a finish past Petr Cech’s flailing right hand.
With a two-goal advantage, United continued to look menacing and, just before half-time, Rooney was involved early on in a move that saw Phil Jones maraud forward from centre-back. Eventually, John Terry’s clearance bounced fortuitously off Nani and into Rooney’s path. He calmly despatched a third.
This was never going to be a cakewalk for the champions and substitute Nicolas Anelka made an immediate impact at the start of the second half when setting up Torres for a clever finish over De Gea. Mata forced the Reds stopper into action again but United should have extended the lead when Nani broke onto a Rooney pass and, after seeing his shot come back off the bar, was fouled by Jose Bosingwa as he latched onto the rebound.
Phil Dowd opted against carding the Portuguese defender and no punishment was meted out as Rooney slipped when taking the spot-kick, evoking memories of John Terry’s miss in Moscow by screwing it wide.
United continued to press after Antonio Valencia and Michael Carrick were introduced but Jones headed a delicious Young cross wide and Chelsea worked hard to get back into the game. Romelu Lukaku was denied by a saving challenge from Patrice Evra soon after coming on and Torres fired a rebound over after De Gea parried his initial shot. The woodwork then saved the visitors when Rooney hit a post from an Evra cross and Javier Hernandez was hurt by Ashley Cole’s challenge as he crashed the ball into the side-netting. Cole was booked but there was no penalty as the Mexican limped off.
The home fans were celebrating as though a goal had been scored when Torres rounded De Gea with seven minutes left but inexplicably shot wide of the empty net with his left foot. There should have been another strike to enjoy in injury time but Rooney’s unselfish pass was a little over-hit to Dimitar Berbatov, who could only send his shot against Cole on the line. Nonetheless, this was another impressive three points for the Reds, who continue to look unbeatable at Old Trafford. Chelsea’s fans were chanting: “We’re going to win the league” in the dying seconds but, on this evidence, it was more out of hope than expectation.
Glory Glory ManUnited!!