by Teo Teng Kiat
Scorers: Evans (OG) 36′, Mata 46′, Luiz 51′; Rooney (pen) 58′, (pen) 70′, Hernandez 84′
On the eve of the 54th anniversary of the Munich disaster, Manchester United did the Busby Babes proud as they clawed back from three goals down to leave Stamford Bridge with a point in a stunning comeback.
It was an outcome that did not look likely when Chelsea took the lead after some clever play from Sturridge. A nice reverse pass from Mata got through to the striker on the right byline inside the box. A lovely shimmy saw him flash past Evra, and his low cross ricocheted first off De Gea’s outstretched leg, and then off Evans and into the net.
It was particularly galling for the away side, who were much the better team and saw a shirt-tug on Young in the penalty area go unpunished, before Gary Cahill appeared to take out Welbeck when the striker was clean through. The Blues defender was shockingly deemed to have played the ball by Howard Webb, who was poor throughout.
Just 24 seconds into the second half, an unmarked Torres crossed from the right, and Mata ran ghosted in unmolested at the far post to slam home a sumptuous sidefoot volley. Five minutes later, it was three. Mata swung in a freekick, and his excellent delivery was met by a free Luiz header which took a huge deflection off Ferdinand’s back and into the opposite corner of the goalkeeper’s movement.
For most teams, it would have been impossible to envisage a comeback. With United, it is highly unlikely, but never completely out of the question.
Hernadez had already come on earlier, before Sturridge’s needless trip on Evra in the box handed United a lifeline, which Rooney made sure of by smashing an unstoppable penalty into the top corner. Suddenly, their tails were up. Scholes came on, and United moved into the ascendancy as Carrick and him started to boss the midfield and dictate the tempo.
A second goal duly arrived when Welbeck was adjudged to have been tripped by Ivanovic in the box. It was a soft one, as it looked like the striker ran into the fullback’s sliding leg, but Rooney wasn’t caring one bit as he sent Cech the wrong way from the spot.
The Chelsea supporters were quiet by this time, and their worries were given validation when the equaliser came six minutes from time. Valencia’s driving run saw him cross to Rooney, who did superbly to unleash a shot. Cech could only push it out to Giggs on the left, and the 38 year-old swung in a perfect cross for Hernandez to nod home.
It would not have surprised anyone at that stage if the Red Devils had gone on to score a winner, but they were hugely indebted to their young Spanish custodian in the end. A Mata freekick from just outside the area looked to be arrowing into the top corner for a sensational last-gasp winner, but David De Gea flung himself at the ball to claw it away brilliantly.
The much-maligned goalkeeper then tipped over a rasping Cahill drive in the last few seconds to preserve a point, and perhaps make one for himself as well.
It was a draw which would have felt more like a defeat for Chelsea, having thrown away a seemingly unassailable lead at home. Cahill was extremely lucky not to have been sent off, while it was puzzling that Sturridge was taken off midway through, given the torment he had been inflicting on Evra. Fernando Torres is clearly still suffering from a confidence crisis, as his old self would surely have smashed home that clear chance he had at 2-3, instead of delaying and turning into trouble.
Given the circumstances, this point would feel like a massive one for United, and boost the morale in the dressing room a huge deal. The character to fight back was unbelievable, and it says volumes that most of the players were disappointed that they didn’t win the match in the end.
Carrick continued his superb form, making countless interceptions and helping to keep possession, a job made much easier when Scholes came on to help him. The old master instantly changed the game, dictating the pace as he constantly passed and then moved to receive the ball. Rooney showed nerves of steel with his penalties, while Evans was immense as he shackled Torres throughout with ease. De Gea proved his worth with those two late saves, and the boy’s potential should be clear to all now.
There are clearly still worrying parts of the defence to be worked on, but Sir Matt Busby and his Babes will surely have been proud of this performance.
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