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Premiership - Manchester United Away 11th January 2009 0-3


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Dismal Chelsea Torn Apart by Rampaging Red Devils

By Alan McGuinness

Manchester United kick started their title challenge with a comprehensive 3-0 win over a very poor Chelsea side this afternoon.

Chelsea showed some guile and invention in fits and starts during the first period, but fell behind when Nemanja Vidic headed in past Petr Cech.

Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov struck in the second half to compound Chelsea's misery and inflict further damage to their title aspirations.

Much of the talk pre-match centred on whether or not Luiz Felipe Scolari would pair Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka together in attack. Scolari opted to start Drogba up front on his own, leaving Anelka on the bench.

Both sides impressed in the early stages, Frank Lampard having the first effort at goal which was well wide.

The England midfielder was also the first player to pick up a booking, earning censure from Howard Webb after cynically taking down Cristiano Ronaldo.

Darren Fletcher gave away a free kick on the outside of the box, but Michael Ballack wasted a valuable opportunity by blasting his effort straight at the wall.

United appealed for a penalty soon afterwards when Ashley Cole handled the ball, but the linesman correctly adjudged the offence to be outside of the box. The resulting free kick from Ryan Giggs was hit with plenty of venom, but Cech punched the ball to safety.

The home side had every right to feel aggrieved when another penalty appeal was turned down moments later. Riccardo Carvalho tugged Ronaldo's shirt in the box and grounded the Portuguese winger. Howard Webb saw nothing untoward but did choose to box the duo for their altercation.

Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney then combined to find Berbatov in space, but the striker scuffed his shot, allowing Cech to make a straightforward save.

John Terry - who was constantly reminded throughout of his penalty miss against Manchester United in Moscow by the jubilant home fans - was at his very best to deny Park Ji Sung from giving United the lead in the 42nd minute. The England captain threw himself at the Korean's shot and kept it out.

Controversy then reared its head as the game moved towards half time.

Rooney placed the ball down for a corner and then rolled it back into play. Giggs whipped the ball in and Ronaldo stole in front of his marker to give his team the lead. Or so he thought. The linesman raised his flag and play was called back.

United - and Rooney in particular - were seething and protested against the official's decision vehemently. Fortunately for them, they weren't to be denied for many moments longer.

Giggs' retaken corner was flicked on by Berbatov and Vidic nodded the ball home.

Anelka was introduced in the second half to give the isolated Drogba some support, but the Frenchman's introduction didn't have the desired effect.

Indeed, Chelsea put in an even more insipid performance than they did in the first half. Drogba in particular had a particularly harrowing afternoon.

The Ivorian's performance was perhaps summed up best when the ball broke to him in the box with 20 minutes left on the clock. Any sort of decent contact would have tested the hitherto unoccupied Van Der Saar. But Drogba comically swiped at the ball and it trickled harmlessly away to safety.

Either side of this piece of slapstick forward play, United added to their first half lead.

Ronaldo's deft flick on the left wing gave Evra space to whip in a cross and Rooney managed to get his foot in front of Ashley Cole and prod the ball into the back of the net.

Then four minutes from time, Berbatov applied some gloss to the scoreline when he lost his marker Franco Di Santo - who was brought on in place of Joe Cole - and found the left corner with a well struck shot.

The victory means that United can move above both Chelsea and Liverpool if they win their two games in hand against Wigan and Bolton.

For Scolari, the comprehensive defeat raises further question marks over his side's ability to sustain a credible title challenge this season.

Edited by Alan
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