Title number nineteen is all but guaranteed after Manchester United beat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.
Just one more point will assure the Premier League trophy will be heading back to M16 after a thoroughly deserved victory over their closest rivals.
The game couldn’t have started any better for United; 36 seconds after kick-off a nice ball from Ryan Giggs found its way to Park Ji-Sung whose inch perfect, defence-splitting pass sent in Javier Hernandez to calmly slide the ball into the bottom-corner and put United 1-0 up. Hernandez has had a debut season no-one – other than Paul Scholes, could’ve predicted; scoring 20 goals in just 25 starting appearances.
The midweek rest given to eight of the starting eleven allowed United to attack Chelsea from the off and the shell-shocked Blues could have found themselves further behind in the first fifteen minutes were it not for some good goalkeeping by Petr Cech. Wayne Rooney’s 35-yard drive looked destined for the top corner before the Czech ‘keeper palmed it away. Rooney went close again soon after, but his low strike went just wide.
Park was having the game of his life and a superb first-time ball almost played in Hernandez for his second, but the Mexican miscalculated and the opportunity was wasted. Park then went close with a thunderous swerving drive that Cech had to tip over for a corner. The South Korean was the standout performer in a collection of fantastic midfield displays.
Antonio Valencia nullified Ashley Cole’s attempts at joining the attack as well as passing him time and again. Michael Carrick once more put in an authoritative performance against Chelsea and the evergreen Ryan Giggs continued to roll back the years and was everywhere; frequently exchanging roles with Park.
United’s dominance deserved a second goal and in the 23rd minute they got their reward. After a short-corner was played back to him, Giggs rounded Salomon Kalou to put in a superb cross for Nemanja Vidic to head United into a two-goal lead.
Vidic’s goal seemed to spark Chelsea into life and soon after The Blues could’ve pulled one back but Edwin van der Sar saved from first a Kalou header and then a Didier Drogba free-kick.
Branislav Ivanovic was having a torrid time and was extremely lucky not to be sent-off after getting away with two late and off the ball challenges on Rooney after he’d already been booked. Another player having an arduous time was David Luiz. The Brazilian defender’s poor first-half saw him make way for his fellow countryman Alex before the second.
The second-half was very much a continuation of the first with United fully dominant. In the 52nd minute The Reds should’ve had a penalty when Frank Lampard handled a Valencia cross, but referee Howard Webb waved away the protests.
Valencia’s constant pressing of Cole led to the left-back conceding possession in a dangerous position and when the ball was returned to the Ecuadorian from Hernandez, Valencia was brought down in the penalty area by John Terry, but protests for a penalty once more fell on deaf ears.
Chelsea received a lifeline with twenty minutes to go when Lampard instinctively flicked in on the volley from six yards out. It was to be their final chance of the game as United saw that the best form of defence was attack and by the end of the game could’ve had at least five.
Within sixty seconds of the restart Valencia laid in Hernandez who in turn played the ball to the stumbling Rooney whose shot was denied on the line by a stunning block from Alex. It was the first of a series of three Rooney chances where in fairness the striker should’ve scored at least one. After being set free by a magnificent ball from Michael Carrick, Rooney failed in an attempt to round Cech. Shortly after he drifted in from the left to give himself the angle for a shot, which was deflected marginally over the bar.
With the clock running down nerves must’ve been beginning to set in when the usually clinical Hernandez missed a header from inside the six-yard box. Valencia’s cross was drilled which gave Hernandez less time to position himself, but from the distance he was to the goal it should really have resulted in his second and United’s third.
As it was, United survived a nervy four minutes of injury-time to open up a six point lead over their opponents at the top of the table and all but seal the record breaking title number 19.
The team that has been described as the worst United team for years is on the brink of winning the League title and will contest the Champions League Final at the end of the month. In the words of a certain someone, “Football, bloody hell.”
The team deserves credit for their spirit, which is there in abundance. Look at the way substitute Anderson celebrated Chicharito’s opener and the way that Dimitar Berbatov and the Mexican – who has displaced him in the starting-eleven, embraced at full-time. The players look like they care, like they’re fighting for one another, <cringe mode>like they’re United</cringe mode>.
The starting line-up
1. van der Sar 6; 20. Fabio 6(12. Smalling 88), 5. Ferdinand 7, 15. Vidic 7, 22. O’Shea 6(23. Evans 46 7); 25. Valencia 8, 16. Carrick 8, 11. Giggs 8, 13. Park 9; 10. Rooney 7, 14. Hernandez 7.
Referee: Howard Webb