|1||Van der Sar|
Big games so often fail to live up to expectation. Not this one.
United, gunning for a 19th league title, and Chelsea, reigning English champions, produced a barnstorming, end-to-end game of football that left no neutral disappointed.
That won’t sate Sir Alex’s men, though, who took the lead at Stamford Bridge through Wayne Rooney before surrendering it early in the second half and then, fatally, conceding a late penalty. What's more, referee Martin Atkinson's decision to award the spot-kick came barely two minutes after Blues defender David Luiz, already on a yellow card, escaped punishment after crudely halting Rooney at the other end.
Frank Lampard ignored the Reds' protests to convert the chance from 12 yards and hand the Blues victory, but United, however aggrieved after the final whistle, remain at the top of the Barclays Premier League, four points clear of Arsenal.
Perhaps more worrying than Tuesday's defeat was Nemanja Vidic's second yellow card in injury time. It means he will now miss United’s trip to Anfield on Sunday. That’s the next challenge that faces the Reds and one Sir Alex must now ensure his troops are prepared for, both physically and mentally.
Chelsea’s victory on Tuesday night was something of a shock given the Blues’ recent form, although just as big a surprise was Sir Alex’s team selection. In each of the past 165 matches, the Reds boss has made at least one tweak to his starting XI. Against Chelsea, though, he put his faith in the same 11 who triumphed at Wigan on Saturday. That meant starts for John O’Shea and Chris Smalling in defence, while Dimitar Berbatov had to settle for a spot on the bench.