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Thursday 14 December 2017

defiant unitedmake point

Fergie's men show the backbone of Champions to complete remarkable recovery in epic at Bridge

NEVER write Manchester United off. Never stand off them. Chelsea were leading 3-0, coasting towards a famous victory when they eased up, allowing the champions to stage one of their epic comebacks. United, and the outstanding Wayne Rooney in particular, never give up.

A more intelligent team than Chelsea would have killed the game off. A less resilient team than United would have folded. Even though they did not win, and are two points behind leaders Manchester City.

United's reputation as the comeback kings under Alex Ferguson is enhanced. Stamford Bridge 2012 will be added to the list, thanks to Rooney.

The memory remains strong of Steve Bruce in the 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday in 1992-93, of Eric Cantona in the 3-2 against Manchester City in 1993-94 and David Beckham putting Tottenham to the sword 5-3 in 2001-02.

There was Rooney in the 4-2 over Everton in 2006/07 and Federico Macheda against Aston Villa in 08-09. No one, of course, will forget Barcelona 99.

When Chelsea were three goals clear, there was a temptation to feel that this was a turning-point, a watershed at the Bridge, the signature performance for Andre Villas-Boas. Chelsea were playing with more youth, largely free of the old guard.

No John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard or Didier Drogba? No problem? By full-time, they realised how much they missed the injured Terry in particular.

Chelsea fans sang Terry's name, chorusing "there's only one England captain" and, sadly, booed Rio Ferdinand, the brother of Anton.

Their chants pockmarked an otherwise compelling game. Yet the early sparring gave little indication of the drama to come. Chelsea settled quickly in their 4-2-3-1 formation, Michael Essien and Raul Meireles holding with Juan Mata unleashed in his preferred position behind Fernando Torres. David Luiz, all blue tights and Joan Baez hair, partnered Gary Cahill.

United were 4-4-2 with Rooney dropping off Danny Welbeck, and Antonio Valencia and the returning Ashley Young looking to get behind Chelsea's full-backs.

Yet Branislav Ivanovic and Jose Bosingwa held firm. Mistakes still littered the first half. De Gea finished the game magnificently, but he started with a weird clearing punch, almost a back-hand slap like Basil Fawlty reprimanding Manuel.

A game of assorted controversies saw Cahill catch Welbeck just outside the box. Howard Webb waved play on and Ferguson went into meltdown, berating Darren Cann, the World Cup final linesman.



Mistakes

Still the mistakes continued. Jonny Evans hesitated and Torres shot wide. Luiz gave the ball away. Chelsea raised their game, raising their fans' hopes by attacking more persistently and breaking through 10 minutes before half-time.

Essien had already been imposing himself on midfield and now he found Mata, whose response was majestic.

A disguised pass down the inside-right channel released Daniel Sturridge, who cut in towards goal. De Gea decided to block with his feet, the ball struck Evans and bounced in.

De Gea largely impressed for the rest of the game, immediately making a fine save from Sturridge. When Chelsea came calling 24 seconds after the break, De Gea stood no chance.

Torres lifted a magnificent cross in from the right and with Evans and Ferdinand dawdling, Mata cracked a marvellous left-footed volley into the roof of the net.

United's defence was creaking like a barn door in a storm. Suggestions that Patrice Evra's form has been in slow decline since the World Cup were leant additional credence here; whether the Luis Suarez incident has affected him only Evra will know, but he looks vulnerable to quick-witted wingers.

Five minutes later, Chelsea's third came from the right. Mata swept across a free-kick and there was Luiz heading firmly goalwards, the ball going in off Ferdinand.

Ferguson promptly removed Young, and sent on Javier Hernandez, meaning Welbeck had to push wide where he worked with typically tireless endeavour. And so it began. United rallied. Evra, chasing Ryan Giggs' ball, was fouled by Sturridge, a naïve challenge, gifting Rooney a penalty. He absolutely thundered the ball past Petr Cech. Game on.

Second sub on. Scholes charged on in the 63rd minute, replacing Rafael and immediately bringing his passing mastery to the occasion. Welbeck went right, Valencia dropped to left-back and Giggs went left.

Chelsea were confused, their confidence draining, their defence dropping deeper. A wonderful passing move saw the ball glide between Scholes, Rooney, Giggs, Rooney and Welbeck before Rooney demanded a low save from Cech.

Within six minutes, United took a stride closer to Chelsea, albeit contentiously. Welbeck trailed his leg, actually catching Ivanovic and went down.

Howard Webb was tricked into awarding a penalty when Welbeck's response had simply echoed Adam Johnson's gamesmanship for City a day earlier.

However many doubts clung to the decision, Rooney's response was undeniable, the ball placed expertly past Cech.

Strangely, Villas-Boas hooked Sturridge, who trudged to the bench withany eye-contact with his manager. The surprise was that Florent Malouda remained in the fray.



NERVY

There was little surprise in seeing United continuing to pour forward. The hosts did break out at times, but the rising tide was flecked with red. Cahill impressed by throwing himself in the way of a Welbeck shot and then heading clear.

But Chelsea's defence was badly caught out with six minutes to go. Valencia found Rooney, whose shot was parried by Cech and was picked up by Giggs. His cross from the left was headed home by Hernandez.

United were level but were still grateful to De Gea for an unbelievably athletic save at the death from a Mata free-kick.

United's fight-back certainly deserved a point.

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