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Chelsea vs. Manchester United: Ref ruins perfectly good game

Shaun Botterill

Well well well. Chelsea have lost for the first time in the league this season, and to make matters worse they've lost to Manchester United, who should probably be considered our arch-rivals these days. And compounding the whole issue was the fact that the Blues were completely, totally and utterly screwed by Mark Clattenburg and the officiating crew.

The calls were so embarrassing that it's easy to forget the start of the match, where United ran rampant against a thoroughly disorganised defence, going 2-0 up after twelve minutes. At times, it looked as though Chelsea were in for an absolute rout -- the visitors were pulling the back line apart at will and the goals weren't undeserved.

The first arrived after just four minutes, when Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie pulled off and allowed Ashley Young to make a run in behind from the United left with just David Luiz and Gary Cahill available to defend. They didn't use him, with Rooney instead cutting the ball back to van Persie, whose first time shot hammered off the post, hit the unfortunate David Luiz in the back, and trickled over the line.

It was a similar story for the second goal as well. Rafael da Silva dangled the ball in front of Ashley Cole and the fullback bit, leaving David Luiz horrendously exposed against Antonio Valencia. The winger's cross duly evaded the centre back, allowing van Persie to fire home to make it 2-0. At this point I punched a wall, quite hard, and my match notes read as follows:

[i hate myself and want to die]

So that was nice. It was looking like Chelsea were going to continue their midweek form and get well and truly stuffed -- United were comfortably moving the ball around and playing in that effortlessly superior way that tends to characterise dominant matches rather than simply a good spell within the game. Fortunately, that changed, and changed in a hurry.

The catalyst seemed to be a David Luiz free kick, which is pretty unlikely on the face of things. Had the defender scored, it would have been something of a surprise, since his shot was fairly close to David de Gea. But it was hit with such venom and moved in the air so quickly that it nearly caught out the 21-year-old, who was forced to bat it away with his feet after realising at the last moment that he wasn't going to be able to catch it.

Then there was Johnny Evans nearly deflecting a John Obi Mikel cross into his own net only to see the post come to the rescue, another de Gea foot save (this time from Gary Cahill), and then a superb stop at the far post from a Fernando Torres header. Chelsea weren't yet back in the match in terms of goals, but they had their visitors pinned back in their own half and the breakthrough was surely coming.

We had the hulking figure of Wayne Rooney to thank when it did. Rooney was apparently enraged by being dispossessed by Eden Hazard near the top of the box, and he retaliated with a phenomenally stupid tackle. That set up Juan Mata with a dangerous-looking 25-yard free kick.

Last season de Gea pulled off a spectacular effort to deny Mata at the Bridge, preserving a 3-3 draw in the very last minute of the match. This time, Johnny Kills didn't give his compatriot the opportunity, unleashing a perfect finish just inside the post to give Chelsea a deserved lifeline just before halftime.

There was time enough before the interval for Mata to get another chance at goal, a mixup in the United line sending the 24-year-old one-on-one with the goalkeeper. His shot on the stretch, however, was thwarted by de Gea's legs, and the Blues would enter the half down 2-1.

That state of affairs wouldn't last long. Chelsea began the second half much like they concluded the first, and the continued attacking soon paid dividends. Mata started the key move by retrieving the ball with a deft touch as it looked to be flying out of play, allowing possession to eventually move to Oscar on the left. The Brazilian's cross was headed in (for too easily, from Rio Ferdinand's perspective) by Ramires to square the match up.

And then, abruptly, the football match ceased. Sure, the sport was still theoretically being played, but we somehow entered the Mark Clattenburg show without anyone bothering to tell Chelsea. Branislav Ivanovic was sent off for a last-man challenge by Ashley Young -- a harsh, but possibly fair decision. Then, inexplicably, Fernando Torres was dismissed for the egregious crime of being fouled by Johnny Evans. Then Javier Hernandez was allowed to score the winner (against nine-man Chelsea) from an offside position.

This doesn't feel like a loss. It really doesn't. It feels like we fought back from 2-0 down to draw and then were dropped into the [fun]ing Twilight Zone. Down to nine men at home against Manchester United? With one of those red cards for diving? Then gifting them a goal for no reason?

Sure, we can point to the passage of play where Chelsea seemed determined to hand United the match and say that that was the true decider, not the appalling officating. But that's kind of nonsense, because the team had fought back superbly and were in pole position to win before... that happened.

So, there goes the unbeaten record. But at the end of the day, Chelsea remain atop the league, and if Roberto di Matteo has any sense at all he'll use the injustice of events at Stamford Bridge to instill a siege mentality in the squad. We'll just have to move on from this one... but forgive me if that takes a little while because what in the actual [fun].

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