MAN UNITED 3, CHELSEA 1
Manchester United’s new generation showed precisely why Sir Alex Ferguson paid such a lavish tribute to them in his programme notes following the club’s best start to a season for 26 years.
Chelsea provided their sternest challenge to date, but United triumphed through goals from Chris Smalling, Nani and Wayne Rooney to maintain their 100 per-cent start to their Premier League campaign from five matches.
It was far from a walkover and, had Chelsea displayed United’s ruthless finishing, it might have been a different outcome. And on the evidence of their display at Old Trafford, Chelsea cannot be discounted as genuine challengers for the title.
Ferguson had earlier wrote in his notes about the latest exciting side he has created and his hopes for further success.
He said: “I have never had a team before that has opened a season in such blistering form and scored so freely.
“It is breaking new ground for me, and to say that at this stage of a fairly lengthy career is really something.
“I’m excited and why not? We have been privy to something really special. Of course you can’t help wondering if it is going to last and, after a lifetime in the game, football has taught me that often there is a banana skin around the corner.
“I ask myself, will the bubble burst? While accepting that our present form is exceptional, I can’t help but feel that this season is going to be good for Manchester United.
“The enthusiasm of this particular group is tremendous. They have the energy and there is no stopping them.”
United made a nervous start in which keeper David De Gea came to their rescue luckily blocking a goalbound shot from Ramires with his legs.
But they were settled when Smalling gave them an eighth minute lead with a free far-post header from Ashley Young’s free kick. It was the right-back’s first Premier League goal and third for the Reds.
Chelsea were undeterred and were unlucky not to find the net as Fernando Torres pulled a shot disappointingly wide, Frank Lampard’s deflected effort flew just wide, Branislav Ivanovic headed straight at De Gea who also pulled off a super stop to deny Ramires who looked as though he could not miss after Torres opened their defence.
United, at times, rode their luck before doubling their advantage in the 37th minute through a netbuster from Nani. He ran from half way and cut inside before unleashing a thunderbolt from 25 yards which arrowed into the top corner.
It got even better for United who scored a third on the stroke of half time. Phil Jones did much of the donkey work before Rooney swept home a low shot from eight yards.
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas took off Lampard at the break and introduced Nicolas Anelka who made an instant impact. Within 30 seconds he set up Torres who lofted the ball over De Gea.
Juan Mata had a shot turned round the post by De Gea as Chelsea suddenly looked a revitalised side.
United were offered the chance of a fourth goal when Young’s shot crashed against the crossbar and Nani, following up, was brought down by Jose Boswinga.
Rooney stepped forward but, just as he was about to strike the ball, his legs gave way beneath him as he ballooned his shot well wide. It evoked memories of an earlier miss by David Beckham for England during Euro 2004.
United made a double substitution just after the hour as Anderson and Smalling were replaced by Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia to provide a steadying influence at a time when Chelsea still sensed a way back into the contest.
There was another let off for United when Torres forced a diving save from De Gea. The ball rebounded to the Spaniard who blazed over when you would have expected the player of old to score as the nervous twitches remained.
Rooney had another great chance to add a fourth goal, but scuffed his shot which struck the upright as they were unable to kill off Chelsea’s brave challenge.
Javier Hernandez, following up, was clattered by Ashley Cole with what Sir Alex Ferguson described as a “terrible challenge” with television replays confirming how bad it was. Had referee Phil Dowd seen it, it would surely have been a red card. It ended the Mexican’s afternoon and, had he not been offside, it would have been a penalty.
Chelsea would have made in an interesting finish had Torres not missed an open goal with seven minutes left. He was put clean through on goal, rounded De Gea and then contrived to shoot wide of an open goal from eight yards.
United ought to have added a fourth goal in stoppage time when Rooney charged through on goal before unselfishly squaring the ball to substitute Dimitar Berbatov whose goalbound shot was cleared off the line by Cole.
It ended a match which Ferguson said was fantastic for neutrals. He was delighted with the quality of some of their attacking play but was unhappy with some of their “careless” play as they gave away possession in dangerous areas, something Chelsea were unable to exploit.