Let’s face it, there is no love lost when Chelsea play Manchester United and a first League victory for the Reds at Stamford Bridge in over a decade is going to taste sweet whatever the circumstances. To end the Blues unbeaten start to the season and then hear their manager and players blame the referee is quite simply music to the ears of the Old Trafford faithful.
In recent years United have been on the wrong end of so many bad refereeing decisions that have given the points to Chelsea that cynics would suspect a conspiracy. Two seasons ago Sir Alex Ferguson found himself on the end of a five-match ban for “telling the truth” after a shocking performance by Martin Atkinson.
There was no such robbery on this occasion because referee Mark Clattenburg’s decisions did not prevent the team that deserved to come out on top from winning the match. The media enjoy confrontation and there is no disputing there was plenty of controversy in a red hot contest that ended with Chelsea down to nine men and claiming the winner from Javier Hernandez that made it 3-2 was offside.
But the referee got the most important decision right when he sent off Branislav Ivanovic for bringing down Ashley Young as he broke clear with only Petr Cech to beat – as Blues boss Roberto Di Matteo was honest enough to admit. That professional foul denied United the chance to put United back in front after Chelsea had recovered from 2-nil down to make it all square.
When Fernando Torres went down at the other end and saw red after the ref gave him a second yellow for simulation the home fans howled with rage claiming Jonny Evans had made contact. But as Sir Alex summed up afterwards the Spaniard only had himself to blame for going down too easily when he could have gone on and tried to score.
Whether or not the decisive strike by Hernandez, shortly after replacing Wayne Rooney, was offside was so marginal that the officials made the right call. My belief is that the television evidence was presented in favour of Chelsea when it could just as easily have been served up the other way by stopping the video two frames later. When you consider there are 25 frames in a second you will understand the margins and being in line with the last defender means the striker is onside.
At the end of the day, we all know that refereeing decisions regularly change the outcome of matches and ultimately the destination of trophies. But on the whole these things have a habit of evening themselves out. While great teams are not crushed by one bad result, whether fair or not.
For the record, David Luiz’s own goal and Robin van Persie’s clinical finish gave Manchester United a two-goal lead early on. But Premier League leaders Chelsea fought back superbly to level with goals from Juan Mata and Ramires either side of the interval before Hernandez struck the winner 15 minutes from the end. It was a pulsating game of football and yet another example of why the EPL is the most exciting League in the world.
Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand deserves huge praise. Not only did he show his support for the Kick It Out campaign by wearing their T-shirt and buried the hatchet with England team-mate Ashley Cole by shaking hands with him before the game. But the former England skipper, shamelessly booed by Chelsea’s John Terry-loyal fans every time he touched the ball, was at his imperious best.