Hello. If I was an especially lazy journalist and I'm not, recent statistics showing I'm at least the 453rd hardest-working journalist in the country then I could just get away with using my preamble from this fixture last season. No one would notice. Don't believe me? Well look:
Manchester United haven't won at Chelsea in the league since 20 April 2002. Ten years. A miserable record, especially as Chelsea have been managed by Avram Grant in that time. And to think people quibble about Tottenham's record at Old Trafford. These are meant to be the champions of England, and they can't even win at a ground where Chelsea didn't lose for 86 matches, a run spanning four years and eight months. Oh.
See? There are, of course, a couple of minor details that have been altered since then, like Tottenham actually winning at Old Trafford, but the main point remains the same: Manchester United don't like it at Stamford Bridge. Even when Chelsea were at their lowest ebb under Andre Villas-Boas on that February afternoon, United needed an improbable comeback from 3-0 down to rescue a point, one that was only secured after two magnificent saves from David De Gea in stoppage time. Most teams suffer from an inferiority complex when United come to town, but not Chelsea even before Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003.
Then again, Chelsea aren't suffering from much of an inferiority complex against anyone at the moment. European champions, top of the table and unbeaten in the league, a win today would take them seven points clear of United. On the surface, there should be nothing at all for Chelsea to fret about. They have won at Arsenal and Tottenham, they are scoring goals for fun and have Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar.
Yet there is a nagging feeling that there is more to come, that Chelsea are still not entirely comfortable with their new attacking identity, that they are yet to quite strike the right balance between defence and attack. A defence that was once so solid and, along with Didier Drogba, essentially won them the Champions League has been exploited by Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk. A midfield of Ramires and John Obi Mikel can be improved. The current version of Fernando Torres is palpably inferior to the 2007-09 version. Of course, United have had their own defensive problems this season, which is largely a consequence of the lack of protection given to the back five by Sir Alex Ferguson's novel 5-0-5 formation. If United are as meek and compliant in midfield as they were against, say, Everton and Tottenham then Hazard, Mata and Oscar could make it another bleak afternoon for them at Stamford Bridge. Just as well Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick on this ground last season then.
Team news: John Terry is suspended for something or other, so Gary Cahill and David Luiz continue at the heart of Chelsea's defence. Otherwise they are as expected. There are a few surprises in the United team, namely that Ferguson has restored width to the side, they're not playing three in midfield to counteract Chelsea's threat in that area and Ashley Young is starting. Note that one down in case he does one of his infamous disappearing acts.
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, David Luiz, Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Mata, Oscar, Hazard; Torres. Subs: Turnbull, Azpilicueta, Bertrand, Romeu, Marin, Moses, Sturridge.
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Cleverley, Carrick, Young; Rooney, Van Persie. Subs: Lindegaard, Anderson, Giggs, Hernandez, Nani, Welbeck, Scholes.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg and His Hair.
Pre-match emails. Your pre-match emails.
"Whatever about this match, the difference between these two teams over the course of the league can be seen on the subs bench today," says Patrick Treacy.
"Mata and Rooney look uncannily familiar in that picture up there," says James Killin. "Like footballing twins separated at birth. One of them went on to become a skilful, accomplished, Champions League- and FA Cup-winning player. The other had hair from his bottom sewn into his head."
"I've just gone past Stamford Bridge (on the way to commentate @testmatchsofa)," says Gary Naylor. |Very busy - there were people converging from all over London. Chelsea fans too."
So I've just returned from Abroad, where they don't have Sky Sports. There I was watching a game on Al Jazeera during the week when who should pop up in the studio but Richard Keys and Andy Gray? In case you were remotely missing either of them, here's an actual question posed by Mr Keys: "Is Luis Suarez a good player?"
The teams are in the tunnel. Chelsea are wearing those infernal tracksuit tops, Manchester United are in that infernal gingham. They trot out to the sound of the Chelsea fans reminding everyone that they're the European champions. "C'mon Jacob, spill the beans," says Simon McMahon. "Where were you?" Cyprus.
Off we go! In one hell of a racket, Chelsea get us underway, attacking from left to right. Rio Ferdinand isn't getting the best reception. "There's only one England captain," chant the Chelsea fans in an unlikely show of support for Steven Gerrard. "Re: Keys and Gray. In fairness, I'm sure I can't be the only one who, when you cited Al Jazeeera, thought instantly of the comedic riches that would be found in Keys and Gray tackling middle eastern politics," says Ryan Dunne. "Might fill the post- Thick of It void. You could give Andy one of those Sky Sports style draw-on-the-screen gizmos, and have him explain how he'd divvy up Israel in the two states solution. I'd watch that! Or can you just imagine the live coverage of the US Presidential election, and Andy giving it "take a bow son!" when the winner is announced?"
2 min: Chelsea are on the front foot immediately. Mata flicks a pass through to Oscar, De Gea stays on his line and Ferdinand, facing his own goal, has to hack it blindly clear.
3 min: This has all the makings of a very fine game indeed. Carrick rolls a pass into Van Persie, who turns neatly away from David Luiz and cracks a firm effort straight at Cech from 25 yards out. The Brazilian defender got far too close to Van Persie there.
GOAL! Chelsea 0-1 Manchester United (David Luiz own goal, 4 min): Is Manchester United's luck at Stamford Bridge about to turn? It certainly appears to be, if this goal is anything to go by. Chelsea were much too open as Rooney found Young on the edge of the area, one-on-one with the last defender. He waited for support and then shuffled the ball to the right for Rooney, whose cutback was met with a crunching right-footed effort from Van Persie from 15 yards out. It beat Cech and smashed against the right post, only to hit the unwitting David Luiz on the backside and rebound into the goal as Young watched it roll over the line. You just need to imagine that going in to the sound Sideshow Bob makes when he was stepping on the garden rakes.
6 min: That's only the third time in nine league games that Manchester United have taken the lead this season.
8 min: "Hope you had an enjoyable break in Cyprus," says SB Tang. "I was once sent there on a 48 hour business trip as a glorified courier. Nice place. I had a lovely braised lamb dish at the local tavern and a good chat with the owner about Nathan Burns. After copping a fair bit of (justified) good-natured ribbing from your colleague Tom Bryant earlier today, I feel obliged to point out that, as explained below, I bought Gerrard's autobiography for peanuts whilst on holiday in south-east Asia for relaxing, brain-switched-off poolside reading. Cut me slack MBM controllers! Oh well, I guess it's too late, Barry Glendenning's already called me an 'anorak'."
10 min: Patrice Evra is down after a heavy challenge from Branislav Ivanovic. The Chelsea right-back got the ball but also took out Evra with his follow-through. Mark Clattenburg, perhaps thinking about his hair, plays on though so it's left to Ivanovic to put the ball out of play to allow Evra to receive some treatment. On the touchline, Ferguson's face turns a deeper shade of purple.
GOAL! Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United (Van Persie, 12 min): This is so simple for Manchester United. Chelsea are all over the place. All over the pitch. There is absolutely no pressure on United when they go forward and the visitors are ripping them apart on the flanks. This time, Rafael lopes forward and pokes a pass to Valencia, all alone on the right with Cole out of position. He drives a low ball into the area, Cahill loses Van Persie and the Dutchman makes no mistake with his right foot from close range. He likes Stamford Bridge.
14 min: Chelsea haven't turned up yet. We've barely seen anything from Hazard, Mata and Oscar. Meanwhile West Brom have equalised at Newcastle. Romelu Lukaku got the goal.
18 min: Torres drifts inside and tries to prod a pass through to Mata. Goal-kick to Manchester United. Nothing's going right for Chelsea. They simply can't handle United's right flank. Valencia steams past one challenge on the right and then wins a corner off Cole.
19 min: Wayne Rooney has just either one of the best passes I've ever seen or the flukiest. He struck it with the outside of his right foot from left to right and just as it looked like it was going to travel all of five yards, it spun away from Mata's outstretched leg and flew all the way to the right touchline.
22 min: Ivanovic tries to play a simple five-yard pass to Hazard. Throw-in to Manchester United.
23 min: David Luiz steps in to stop a charge from Rafael charge on the right. And then promptly gives the ball back to Rafael trying to be too clever for his own good. Fortunately for Luiz, Rafael's cross, intended for Young, is overhit. At St Mary's, it's Southampton 1-2 Tottenham, Jay Rodriguez pulling a goal back for the home side.
24 min: David De Gea makes a bizarre save from a David Luiz free-kick. It was conceded after a foul by Carrick on Ramires around 35 yards from goal. Luiz hit it in the dipping style of Cristiano Ronaldo and De Gea decided the best way to save the shot was with his feet. It worked too. I've never seen that before. It's like he was playing five-a-side.
25 min: Chelsea are improving. Mata has a pop from 25 yards out but his low fizzer skids wide of the right post. They're still not overly troubling United though. Their best attempts have all come from long range so far. Fernando Torres needs to step up.
27 min: "SB Tang shouldn't get too upset at being called an anorak by Barry Glendenning," says Ryan Dunne. "After all, Barry recently revealed on the pod that he spent most of his life confusing R2D2 for C3PO, surely a social (or antisocial) faux pas up there with not being able to name all of Batman's Robins!" Aren't they all called Robin?
29 min: Chelsea are having most of the possession, Brendan style, but they aren't doing much with it. United are content to sit back, soak up the pressure and then hit them on the break. Which they've done twice to devastating effect already.
30 min: Chelsea's defence is a total rabble this afternoon. De Gea launches the ball long and David Luiz is caught horribly out of position as Van Persie guides a header to Valencia. He runs at Cahill, ignore Van Persie and Young in the middle and sees his weak shot blocked. He lets the ball run out for a corner. That was an escape for Chelsea, who could be on the end of a real hiding if they don't improve.
31 min: Van Persie's corner is only cleared as far as Young on the edge of the area. For a moment it looks like he might shoot but instead finds Rooney on the left. His cross is deflected and Cech does well to hold it under pressure from Evra. "Still can't get used to seeing Rooney playing so deep," says David Fallon. "He's looking more and more like a Paul Scholes doppelganger." He's been excellent, running the show for United when they have the ball.
33 min: United are simply sharper in possession and quicker to the ball. Chelsea are being crowded out in midfield and can't get Torres into the game at all.
35 min: Jonny Evans, who scored an own goal on this ground this ground last season, nearly makes it two in two. United went to sleep at a Chelsea throw-in, failing to spot Mikel's run into the area. He smashed a low cross into the six-yard box and Evans, never too far away from a calamity, shanks a dreadful clearance against the base of the right post and out for a corner. De Gea was beaten.
36 min: How on earth did that stay out? Cahill rises highest from Mata's corner and powers a downward header towards goal. It hits De Gea's legs on the line and somehow spins just wide of the far post. United deal with the second corner.
38 min: The pressure from Chelsea is growing. Valencia brings down the largely anonymous Torres on the left, just outside the area. David Luiz elects to shoot again, but this time his effort is blocked. "For shame Jacob!" says Ryan Dunne. "I fear you may have had one of those having-a-life, talking-to-girls, misspent youths."
41 min: "On Rooney playing deep, isn't it a sign that he is becoming the player he always should have been," says Edward Evans. "Just because he is balding doesn't mean he should try to be Alan Shearer. He was supposed to be the great English no. 10, and there is still time for that, especially if, as he admits, he has lost a yard of pace."
42 min: United's goal is living an increasingly charmed life. First a corner from the right somehow reaches Torres at the far post. He can't react quickly enough and sees the ball nipped off his toes. But United can't get it out, Mata curling the ball back into the area where Torres's powerful header is brilliantly clawed wide by De Gea, diving to his right. What a save!
GOAL! Chelsea 1-2 Manchester United (Mata, 44 min): Well this had been coming and it is an utterly stunning goal from Juan Mata. It had to be to beat De Gea in this form. United were creaking at the back and Rooney, who had sliced a clearance over his own bar moments earlier, was booked for a foul on the edge of the D. Mata stepped up and curled a delicious free-kick into the left corner. De Gea didn't have a prayer. What a goal.
45 min: De Gea preserves United's lead with another outstanding save to deny Mata! Admittedly it all came from his own error, a poor clearance straight to Hazard. He played Mata through on goal but he shot with his left when he should have taken it with his right, allowing De Gea to save with his legs. United are desperate for the half time whistle to blow.
Peep! Peep! With Chelsea pressing for an equaliser, Mark Clattenburg brings an end to a breathless first half after two minutes of stoppage time. Neither side can defend, but what a game.
Half time: Chelsea 1-2 Manchester United. Swap strikers and I fancy Chelsea would be winning this.
46 min: United get the second half going again. More of the same please! Valencia makes a nuisance of himself against both Cole and David Luiz, eventually winning a corner. There aren't many players around with more upper-body strength than Valencia. Van Persie's corner is cleared but Rafael halts a counter from Torres.
48 min: A corner to Chelsea on the right. Oscar hits it low - intentionally towards the near post - but it ends up coming all the way to Mata on the edge of the area. An equaliser seems certain but Carrick gets in the way of Mata's volley.
49 min: David Luiz and Robin van Persie are having a gentleman's debate about the best shirt-pulling techniques.
51 min: Ferdinand sends a glorious pass down the inside-right channel for Valencia. His cross is blocked by David Luiz and runs through to Cech. Sorry, correction: his cross is blocked by the outstretched right arm of David Luiz and runs through to Cech. That is a blatant penalty. Valencia is furious.
GOAL! Chelsea 2-2 Manchester United (Ramires, 53 min): United, the kings of the comeback, are getting a taste of their own medicine. This is dreadful defending too, particularly from Jonny Evans. He should have dealt with a high ball into the area but inexplicably allowed it to drop over his head and to Mata. He was clear on goal, six yards out but his touch took him away from goal so he swivelled and turned it back into the danger area. Torres couldn't make anything of it but Oscar lobbed it back in from the left and Ramires headed it low past De Gea from six yards out.
54 min: De Gea is keeping United in this at the moment. On the left, Hazard zips inside Rooney and then hammers a low drive towards the near post. De Gea saves with his feet again.
55 min: Now United are all over the place. Again they fail to deal with a chipped ball into the area but are grateful to see Hazard try to bring the ball down instead of heading it. The chance disappears. More will come though. Surely.
59 min: United are capable of some scintillating football but have not had much of an answer once Chelsea upped the tempo and got going. Probably something to do with that midfield. What must Roy Keane make of it all?
61 min: Finally a response from United. Valencia crosses from the right and Rooney's cross from the edge of the area is deflected wide. Cech claims Van Persie's corner. Why is he taking them when Young is on the pitch?
63 min: BRANISLAV IVANOVIC IS SENT OFF! CHELSEA ARE DOWN TO TEN MEN! Van Persie turns away from Luiz for the umpteenth time and sends Young through the middle. He's clean through on goal and is clumsily brought down by Ivanovic 20 yards out. A clear red card. Mark Clattenburg has no other option.
64 min: Rooney's free-kick flashes this far over the bar. Cech probably would have saved it though.
65 min: United replace Tom Cleverley with Javier Hernandez. Presumably Rooney will drop even deeper.
66 min: Chelsea respond to Ivanovic's red card by bringing on the Spanish right-back Cesar Azpilicueta for Oscar. They're quite good with 10 men, of course.
68 min: OH MY WORD! FERNANDO TORRES IS SENT OFF FOR A SECOND BOOKING AND CHELSEA ARE DOWN TO NINE MEN! But this is highly contentious. It looked like he had been fouled by Evans 20 yards from goal and it seemed Clattenburg had given a free-kick to Chelsea and was about to book the United defender. Instead he judged that Torres had dived - which looks extremely harsh - and shows him a second yellow card for diving! They were about to take him off for Sturridge as well and now look. Torres can't believe it. The Chelsea fans are furious.
70 min: It's all too much for those in the dugouts. On the touchline, Ferguson is ready to take on every member of Chelsea's coaching staff.
72 min: Chelsea replace Juan Mata with Ryan Bertrand. I think they're playing for a draw.
73 min: Van Persie twists and turns on the edge of the area and then welts the ball into the upper tier of the Matthew Harding Stand.
74 min: Wayne Rooney, who's on a booking, is replaced by Ryan Giggs.
GOAL! Chelsea 2-3 Manchester United (Hernandez, 75 min): The nine men of Chelsea's men couldn't hold out for long, but once they see the replay of this goal they will be even more hacked off because Javier Hernandez was half a yard offside. This was a remarkable sequence of events, all the same. It looked like Chelsea had escaped when Cech had turned a low shot from Van Persie agonisingly on to the post, the ball rolling towards goal at roughly one mile an hour, before hurtling back to push the ball clear. But only as far as Rafael, who smashed the ball back into the six-yard box for Hernandez to turn it in. Before goading the Chelsea fans in ostentatious style.
78 min: David Luiz romps forward from the back and tees up Ramires, whose shot from 25 yards out flies well over the bar.
79 min: I forgot to say that Mikel was booked for dissent after the Hernandez goal. "In both 'big' games today there have been multiple absolutely disastrous refereeing decisions," says JR. "Some simple video review could have corrected most of them."
80 min: By the way, I think I missed Torres's first booking. According to my colleague Gregg Bakowski, he was booked for a high boot on Cleverley in the first half.
82 min: The Chelsea fans cheer ironically after getting a free-kick. And then applaud warmly as Hazard goes off for Daniel Sturridge.
84 min: "I asked this in a different MBM a while back, but it seems worth repeating - why isn't replay used in such a situation as with Torres's second card to determine if the call is actually correct?" asks Tracy Mohr. Because they can't use video replays.
86 min: A marvellous game has been ruined. This feels like a non-event now.
87 min: If you have a haircut like Mark Clattenburg, should you really be in charge of a game like this? Something to ponder while United look to kill the game off. Young dinks a pass over the top to Hernandez, who volleys over with his left foot. He should have scored. "If the tv can show me the correct decision immediately while I'm sitting on my arse 8,000 miles away, why oh why can the Premier League not give the same help to the ref?" asks Matthew Holt.
89 min: Paramedics are treating a steward behind the Chelsea goal. Apparently he was hit by something thrown from the crowd after Hernandez's goal. Well done, everyone! "If we're going to use video replay, I assume it would also have to be used to replay Luiz's handball immediately before Chelsea's second goal," says Jonathan Francis. "So United with a penalty to go 3-1 up why did that not "ruin" the game too? It's arguably just as poor a decision as the Torres second yellow."
90 min: There will be five minutes of added farce.
90 min+1: Now Valencia is booked for diving. I think the only player who hasn't been booked for diving today is Luis Suarez.
90 min+3: Van Persie plays in Valencia. It should be United's fourth. His shot is closer to the corner flag than the Chelsea goal. I mean really.
90 min+4: United are running down the clock.
Full time: Chelsea 2-3 Manchester United. Well. What to say about that? Manchester United have their first win in the league at Stamford Bridge since April 2002 but that doesn't get close to telling the fully story. Loud boos greet Mark Clattenburg's final whistle and no wonder because Chelsea will feel they have been robbed. There was no disputing Branislav Ivanovic's red card for bringing down Ashley Young, but Fernando Torres's second yellow card for diving smacked of attention seeking from Clattenburg. Add to that an offside winner from Javier Hernandez and you'll start to understand why Chelsea are in an almighty funk. Refereeing controversies aside, this was brilliant. United started superbly but looked like they were going to throw it away when Chelsea pegged them back to 2-2. You know the rest. United go second, above Manchester City on goal difference and a point behind Chelsea. Thanks for reading. Bye.