x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Chelsea and Manchester United serve up six goals in a league thriller

Andy Mitten braved the cold at Stamford Bridge to watch the champions recover from three down in a match that had a little bit of everything

Javier Hernandez of Manchester United jumps between David Luiz, left, and Gary Cahill to score Manchester United's equaliser against Chelsea.
Javier Hernandez of Manchester United jumps between David Luiz, left, and Gary Cahill to score Manchester United's equaliser against Chelsea.

As the controversial referee Howard Webb whistled for the end of one of the most exciting games of the Premier League this season, Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand clenched his fists as he moved towards the visiting fans.

"Come on!" he screamed deliriously in the freezing west London rain at Stamford Bridge. "Yes! Come on!"

Such was the intensity of his celebration, a viewer tuning in might have assumed that United had won a ninth away game from 12 this season.

The visitors were not victors, but Ferdinand's actions were understandable. Booed throughout, he had seen a Chelsea goal fly in off his shoulder and watched his team concede three goals in 15 minutes before United's late, comeback brought the score level.

Ferdinand's side dominated the frantic early exchanges, though a feeble David de Gea clearance from a corner in which four Chelsea players surrounded the much-criticised United goalkeeper did little to settle the nerves of the 3,017 travelling supporters in the 41,668 crowd. They had a difficult journey south through the heavy snow which had fallen overnight.

United appealed for a 10th-minute penalty after debutant Gary Cahill fouled Danny Welbeck, but while Sir Alex Ferguson fumed on the sidelines and remonstrated with the fourth official, replays showed that the foul was from outside the area.

United's best move in a stop-start first half came in the 28th minute, when the champions counter-attacked. Antonio Valencia found Wayne Rooney, who held the ball up and played the ball towards Welbeck before a superb Branislav Ivanovic interception pushed the ball for a corner.

Chelsea did not convince. Without Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole and John Terry they were bereft of their established spine. Worrying for their future, but, for the present, they lacked the incisive speed associated with recent line-ups.

Fernando Torres tried, but without a goal in more than 18 hours, his confidence looked shot and he was booked for an awkward clash with Jonny Evans.

Evans grimaced in pain, but his expression was far worse in the 35th minute when he scored at the wrong end. Juan Mata had released Daniel Sturridge, who easily went past Patrice Evra on the right before cutting the ball across the United's box from the by line. De Gea, standing by the near post, deflected the ball towards Evans who could do little but turn it into his own goal.

United responded immediately as Ashley Young, Welbeck and Rooney produced fine saves from Petr Cech before half time as Chelsea maintained their lead. Despite Chelsea's poor season so far, it was a familiar scenario as United have not won in the league at Stamford Bridge since 2002.

The champions have not been immune to criticism themselves, but their away form has been their most impressive feature in a roller coaster term. United have won eight, drawn two and lost just one of their away games, but 24 seconds after the break a terrific cross from Torres was volleyed past De Gea by Mata.

Chelsea were invigorated, briefly excellent and made it 3-0 in the 50th minute, Mata again involved, his free kick headed in by David Luiz via the shoulder of Ferdinand.

United looked doomed, but a lifeline came after Rooney smashed home a 56th-minute penalty, awarded after Evra fell under a Sturridge challenge.

United continued to attack and while Chelsea countered dangerously, the visitors were awarded a second, soft, penalty on 68 minutes when Ivanovic tripped Welbeck. Rooney converted for his 20th goal of the season.

The away side pressed forward in a superb encounter only marred by Chelsea fans booing Ferdinand for the crime of being the brother of Anton Ferdinand - whom Chelsea captain Terry has been charged with racially abusing.

As Ferguson urged his team onRyan Giggs crossed to Javier Hernandez to head in a dramatic 83rd minute equaliser. In a sublime finale, De Gea produced two outstanding saves to conclude an incredible match.

Andre Villas-Boas, the Chelsea manager, criticised Webb for making some "strange decisions".

"Of course, it's not easy to take," he said. "It's a massive recovery for United. We had it in our hands and let it slip. There were some strange decisions today though. These things just keep happening.

"I'm not sure if Howard is trying to compensate for something."

Ferguson disagreed with Villas-Boas and claimed his side should have been given another two spot kicks.

"We had two penalties in the second half which were justified. I think we could have had four penalties," said the Scot, who also complained that Cahill should have been sent off for hauling down Welbeck after 10 minutes.

"It's a sending off. I don't blame Howard Webb, I blame the assistant. I can't understand that."