Premier League: Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United
Chelsea: Eden Hazard (38)
Manchester United slipped to an undeserved first Barclays Premier League defeat since February as Chelsea took another big stride towards the title through Eden Hazard’s 38th-minute goal.
Wayne Rooney came within a whisker of opening the scoring early on and the Reds arguably dominated the possession and created the most chances during the game, but the visitors’ efforts went unrewarded as the Blues moved 10 points clear of Arsenal at the top of the table.
Louis van Gaal made three changes to his starting line-up, with Radamel Falcao, Luke Shaw and Paddy McNair coming in for the injured Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Daley Blind. It was a reshaped XI, with Rooney dropping into midfield, but it didn’t seem to affect United, who impressed in the opening exchanges with a composed display reminiscent of the one at Anfield last month.
Rooney went agonisingly close to opening the scoring in the fifth minute, when Shaw flew down the left and pulled the ball back to the skipper, whose first-time left-footed shot curled inches wide. Some fans inside the ground thought it was in, but the ball hit the stanchion instead of the back of the net.
Van Gaal had suggested before the game that the leaders would be satisfied for a draw and they seemed like they were playing for one, happily sitting back and allowing United plenty of possession.
But the Blues had only conceded seven goals at home all season and the Reds were finding it hard to fashion any more clear openings, forcing Ander Herrera and then McNair to try their luck from distance.
At the other end, Cesc Fabregas, sporting a protective mask, sought to find Oscar with a neat through-ball but Marouane Fellaini nipped in to clear ahead of the Brazilian.
Soon after, David De Gea came out to clear a long ball and appeared to handle it marginally outside his box. TV replays confirmed it, though there were no appeals on the field.
Aside from that and a couple of comfortable catches and punches, United’s goalkeeper had not been overly worked. But then, out of the blue, Chelsea went ahead with a well-worked goal.
John Terry dispossessed Falcao in midfield, though the Reds striker subsequently protested he had been fouled, and the ball found its way to Oscar, who backheeled into the run of Hazard, cutting in from the left. The flying Belgian bore down on goal and calmly slotted through De Gea’s legs.
It was a real sucker punch, but United were undeterred. On the stroke of half-time, Ashley Young directed a neat first-time flick into Falcao’s path but Thibaut Courtois raced out to reach the ball ahead of the Colombian.
United breathed a sigh of relief early in the second period as Didier Drogba’s shot deflected off Chris Smalling and spooned over De Gea towards the far post, but Hazard could only turn the ball onto the crossbar from the narrowest of angles.
The visitors continued to press and twice in quick succession went close to equalising around the hour mark. McNair unleashed a powerful drive that Courtois punched away, then Shaw did terrifically well to charge into the box and cross towards Juan Mata, whose deflected shot spun over the bar.
Rooney also had a shot deflected wide after Fellaini had expertly brought a cross down, before van Gaal brought on Adnan Januzaj and Angel Di Maria for Mata and Young.
Chelsea were well organised defensively but United were looking increasingly likely to find the breakthrough. Gary Cahill did well to block Falcao’s shot inside the box, then United’s recalled striker clipped Courtois’ post from an acute angle after running onto Shaw’s through-ball.
With time running out, Rooney couldn’t keep his header down from Di Maria’s corner and, at the death, after Jose Mourinho had made two substitutions in injury time, United had a penalty appeal waved away.
Herrera went down after appearing to be fouled by Cahill, but instead of pointing to the spot, referee Mike Dean booked the Spaniard for simulation and, moments later, the match was over.
Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Matic, Oscar (Ramires 67), Fabregas (Mikel 90), Hazard (Willian 90), Drogba.
Subs not used: Cech, Filipe Luis, Cuadrado, Solanke.
Booked: Drogba, Ivanovic, Oscar
United: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, McNair, Shaw (Blackett 80), Mata (Januzaj 70), Rooney, Herrera, Young (Di Maria 70), Fellaini, Falcao.
Subs not used: Valdes, Rafael, Pereira, van Persie.