x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Chelsea sink United to open up five-point lead

The Blues widen the gap over the Premier League champions at the top of the table after a close win at Stamford Bridge.

It is likely Nicolas Anelka will be confirmed as the goalscorer, but what is without doubt is that Chelsea now have a five-point advantage over Manchester United at the top of the Premier League. The French striker appeared to have had the final touch in the 76th minute after John Terry glanced a Frank Lampard free kick goalwards. Both celebrated, with Terry hoping it was his first of the season and easing some of the pain he suffered in Moscow in 2008 when he missed a penalty in the Champions League final defeat to United. He said: "I want it because I've never scored against Manchester United home or away, but Nicolas was brilliant so he can have it. "The most important thing is winning and being five points clear. It wasn't the best of games, but I thought overall we deserved it." Anelka's sixth of the season infuriated Sir Alex Ferguson, who felt Darren Fletcher did not foul Ashley Cole for the initial free kick and Didier Drogba should have been punished for a challenge on Wes Brown when the goal went in. "You lose faith in refereeing sometimes, that's the way the players are talking in there. It was a bad one," said the United manager. "You need a break and we never got the break. We have dominated the game and we should have finished them off. For that we only have ourselves to blame." The result extended Chelsea's top-flight record of successive home clean sheets to nine, but they were surprisingly hesitant early on. Twice in the first 10 minutes Wayne Rooney left them concerned. The first when he burst clear on goal, but was wrongly flagged offside. Undeterred, Rooney then latched onto a pass from Patrice Evra and a quick turn eluded Ricardo Carvalho, but his snap shot thudded into the side netting. The England striker looked lively, but isolated upfront in a role that countered Chelsea's formation. What developed was a tactical battle with both sides finding it tight and tense, and often restricted to long-range shots. Antonio Valencia went close with one in the 20th minute, but his effort dipped just over the bar. Ryan Giggs saw the same result with a flick after being picked out in the box by an inch-perfect pass from Darren Fletcher. Michael Carrick did force Petr Cech into a 31st minute save, but his effort lacked the venom to trouble the Chelsea keeper. His counterpart Edwin van der Sar had a bit more to do, but still surprisingly less considering they were without three of their defensive stalwarts. Gary Neville was suspended, Rio Ferdinand injured and Nemanja Vidic just fit enough to make the bench. But Jonny Evans and Brown were undaunted by the challenge of Drogba and continually frustrated the in-form Ivorian striker. Instead it was Anelka who caused them problems. Playing in a roaming role, he was the obvious source of creativity for his side. Van der Sar comfortably held his low shot, but the Dutchman had to be more alert in the 32nd minute to deny the Frenchman. Anelka cut inside Evans on the right and his curling effort was pushed away by the United custodian. Everytime he was on the ball, Anelka created a buzz. It was the same for United with Rooney and he went close twice in the 67th minute, lashing a low shot just wide before Cech pushed away his 20-yard effort as it curled towards the top corner. The game opened up a bit more, but it took a set-piece to settle it. Chelsea have been on the receiving end in recent weeks with slack marking at the back leading to defeats at Wigan and Aston Villa. But it was United, without a win at Stamford Bridge since 2002, who were caught out this time.

sports@thenational.ae