You probably remember how this one went, so rather than retell a familiar story, let’s take the time to smash one myth about this game: Chelsea were in no way unfortunate to go into the shootout having not already won the game.
OK, so they hit the post. Yet apart from the irritating cliché that striking the woodwork is a result of poor fortune (false – it just means your shot wasn’t accurate enough), we might suggest Chelsea were lucky to get to half-time with any hope of victory whatsoever. United’s total dominance in the first half is strangely forgotten. Ronaldo gave Essien the beasting of a lifetime, Chelsea were very close to conceding first from Tevez and then Carrick’s follow-up, before Tevez missed an absolute sitter minutes afterwards, before Chelsea nicked their spawny goal just before half-time. If it’s about fortune, then Chelsea were lucky to be in the game at all.
Some of the more doom-inclined Top Reds may suggest it was fitting for a triumph that owed much to negativity and defensiveness was won on penalties. But this was high drama, up very high on the list of the great penalty shootouts. Some suggested that you couldn’t write it, but they were wrong. If you were asked to write it, it’d be the first thing you came up with – a triumph through a personal humiliation of John Terry. Forget small boys in the park imagining themselves to be Stanley Matthews – this is what a real fantasy made flesh looks like.
2. Manchester United 3-0 Chelsea, Premier League, 2009
We’ll fondly look back on this season as one of the great title races, if we don’t already, and this was one of the many turning points in a season that had more twists than Ryan Giggs’ chest hair. It was, of course, the next game after Rafael Benitez’s infamous ‘facts’ rant. There’s been much revisionism over this (and typically from journalists of a Scouse persuasion), that it was simply a calm, collected man raising an issue to the press, that was spun out of all proportion by the media.
That’s obviously nonsense – it was sheer wibble by a man quite clearly at the end of his tether – but even if it were true, it overlooks the fact that Ferguson, when dealing with the media in similar ways, knows the spin that will be put on his words. That’s what being good at these things is all about – knowing what part of an interview will be picked up on, and how it will be framed. And when all said and done, you only need to look at what happened in the subsequent game.
Chelsea were a bag of nerves, a mixture of indecision and cowardice going forwards and of recklessness and flat-footedness at the back. United took full advantage, forcing masses of pressure, but couldn’t find a way through, until Ronaldo headed in a goal from a cheekily-worked training ground set-piece, with United acting out a clever routine that left Giggs free to run at goal and cross for Ronaldo to head in. The goal was wrongly ruled out, but Vidic scored from the retaken corner anyway.
From then on, there would only be one winner as Rooney and Berbatov added to the scoreline with Ronaldo enjoying one of his best games as creator. In the same round of fixtures, Liverpool limped to a 0-0 home draw with Stoke. And the rest is history.
3. Chelsea 5-6 Manchester United, First Division, 1954
Few would’ve foreseen Chelsea winning the title in 1955 in the first place, and despite the reservations over a Manchester United team with an average age of 21, they would’ve been far more fancied than a Blues side consisting largely of gritty defenders, amateurs plucked from obscurity, and midfield cloggers. So it was proved when United smashed six in taking a 6-3 lead at Stamford Bridge, with Dennis Viollet and Tommy Taylor looking unplayable.
Then, however, Chelsea mounted an unlikely comeback which just fell short, Seamus O’Connell, one amateur, scoring two as United managed to hang on for what went down as a narrow victory. That mental fortitude stood Chelsea in great stead, as they went on a ludicrous end-of-season push to claim the title, five points clear of United in the end.
Football is all about timing, and Chelsea’s victory coincided with the beginning of the European Cup, and as the reigning Champions, they were duly invited by UEFA to take part. The Blues eagerly accepted, although the Football League turned down the invitation on their behalf, the league secretary Alan Hardaker sagely reasoning that there were “too many wogs and dagoes.” How times change in Chelsea-FA relations.
4. Manchester United 3-0 Chelsea, First Division, 1955
The original ‘you’ll win nothing with kids’ season. United’s league triumph 4 years previously, the first since 1911, was a remarkable and unexpected one, but it was done with an ageing side, the farewell gift of a team that was good but not great. In contrast, in the 1955-56 season, the victory was all the sweeter, showing what a new, youthful team, the Busby Babes, could be capable of.
It didn’t start that well, however. United only won three of their first eight games, and when United took on the champions Chelsea, few were expecting them to mount a title challenge and the attendance for the game is recorded as a paltry 22,000. Bolstered by the return of Duncan Edwards and Tommy Taylor, with Eddie Colman making his debut, United thumped the champions 3-0, with Taylor bagging a brace.
What followed was eerily reminiscent of the United of a more recognisable era. The slow start, the writing off of the kids, and a storming end to the season, United drawing three and winning eleven of their last fourteen games to clinch a title that sent out a powerful message – not just at home, or even at Old Trafford, where that early attendance had now risen to three times it’s number – a postwar record – but also to the rest of Europe, on which stage they would shortly enter.
5. Manchester United 4-0 Chelsea, FA Cup Final, 1994
The 1994 cup final was a performance somewhat marred by a ridiculous decision over the second penalty which never should have been, but it should never have detracted from the overall display. Chelsea felt unfortunate not to take the lead in the first half when Gavin Peacock’s illustrious lob hit the crossbar, but by the second half, United had got themselves together and Chelsea were struggling to escape their own area.
United were at a level where, even when not at their best, they could play with such energy and verve as to experience virtually no drop in performance. Clumsy touches were replaced with frantic movement and play was created as much through sliding tackles as pinpoint passes – the end result was all the same, with pressure mounting increasingly on the Chelsea defence before Eddie Newton’s shocking tackle on Denis Irwin in the area opened the floodgates.
The second, ill-awarded penalty like the first was cooly placed into the bottom corner by Eric Cantona, before Mark Hughes added an excellent third and a classic breakaway goal added gloss, Paul Ince coolly rounding the goalkeeper before teeing up Brian McClair with an easy finish. Playing at a level significantly below their best, Chelsea were given a sound thrashing, and a deafening warning shot was sent around the country.
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