Chelsea extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table to five points after a 1-0 victory in The Battle of the Bridge yesterday, however they will be breathing a huge sigh of relief after several moments of good fortune assisted them in gaining all three points.
Despite not playing badly, Chelsea were largely unthreatening for the duration of the game, unlike the free flowing attacking side that fans have become accustomed to in recent weeks. Ferguson set out his United side to stifle Chelsea’s midfield diamond, with the likes of Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick preventing the creative forces of Deco and Frank Lampard, leaving Chelsea looking for other attacking options. Ashley Cole was another man in Chelsea blue that experienced a frustrating afternoon as although solid defensively, Cole was unable to embrace the attacking side of his game as a disciplined Antonio Valencia pursued him every time Chelsea were in possession. It was a dedicated display from the Ecuadorian as he played a role that would have been very unsuited to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.
Great expectation was placed upon the performance of the in-form Didier Drogba, with the Chelsea faithful looking to the striker to lead from the front in their quest to break the United back line. Drogba would have been relishing the chance to face the Champions defence with a second choice centre-back pairing in the absence of Vidic and Ferdinand; however the Ivorian was largely ineffective. Drogba does not boast an impressive scoring record against United with just 1 goal in 12 attempts and his willingness to change this affected his performance. In a game of few chances, Drogba’s initial instinct when receiving the ball was to take a strike at goal, often ignoring the better option, most notably in the closing moments of the first half as the talisman opted for a shot from a tight angle when Lampard was arriving on the edge of the Manchester United area.
Ironically though, it will be United and not Chelsea that will play up Drogba’s role in the games solitary goal. It came after the Blues were awarded a soft free kick for a foul on Ashley Cole and although it may not be the terrible decision that Ferguson has since made it out to be, United fans still have the right to feel aggrieved as Darren Fletcher appears to get a fair amount of the ball. Lampard swung in the free kick and John Terry headed home however Drogba had tangled with defender Wes Brown before then bearing down on the United goal from a debatable offside position. It is a sequence of decisions that many Chelsea fans will argue go the way of the home team and the type of decision that has often been seen at Old Trafford in the past. It will be a welcome sight to Blues fans that captain John Terry played a huge part in the goal (even if does get accredited to Anelka) and although it does not fix his trauma of Moscow, it will go a significant way to repairing it.
This was not the type of Chelsea performance fans have been treated to recently; however this does not mean that it wasn’t still a decent display from Ancelotti’s men. Their inability to look potent and free-flowing came more from United’s impressive tactical display than bad attacking play and it shouldn’t be overlooked that despite surrendering possession to the Champions, Chelsea’s defence looked as solid as ever. They limited Man Utd to few clear cut chances and extended their impressive run of not conceding at home since the opening day of the season. In this respect it was a display reminiscent of Mourinho’s Chelsea sides as they ground out an immensely important result when not playing their best football, even if the victory did come with a certain deal of assistance from the match officials.
A title decider this match was not, however Chelsea fans will be feeling even more confident of their chances of dislodging the Champions crown. Chelsea find themselves with a bit of a comfort zone at the top of the table, a position they have not really been in since the days of ‘The Special One’. Lady Luck was undoubtedly on the London club’s side yesterday however this is only likely to add to the sense of optimism amongst the Chelsea faithful.