Chelsea left it late to clinch all three points, in a dull affair that only sparked to life in the final ten minutes.
Juan Mata’s deflected shot — which goes down as a Phil Jones own goal — four minutes from time secured all three points, a momentous win ahead of the crunch derby mid-week against Tottenham.
It means Chelsea now over-take Arsenal in third place, and having played one game less albeit that is the London derby on Wednesday.
With Chelsea all to play for, it was probably a good time to play Manchester United, for which this game was a dead rubber.
Rafael Benitez has now, with this win, won two of his last three league matches at Old Trafford, whilst it’s the first time in 67 matches that Manchester United have failed to score at home, a record that dates back to 2009.
More impressively on the stats, it was the first time Chelsea have beaten Untied with Howard Webb as referee. The official had a passive game, although when called upon for two key decisions in deciding the goal and the United red card, their first of the season, he called them correct.
It was up to Chelsea to bring the game to United. Ferguson had promised to play a strengthened side “out of respect” to the other Champions League fighters, and with van Persie, Vidic and Giggs part of the star-studded line-up, it is fair to say he kept to his word.
In the run-up to the game, the Blues have scored the opening goal in more Premier League games this season than any other side, 22, and it looked to be 23 early on but for Ba to be a whikser away from meeting Mata’s cross.
Tom Cleverley had United’s chance to break to the deadlock, before Oscar nearly hit back. Moses looked to score after his mid-week goal against Basel, whilst Anderson was providing Chelsea reminders not to attack too forcefully.
Van Persie had a quiet introduction but was nearly fed through successfully by Giggs, before Ba had another chance to test Lindegaard. The wall of Evans and Vidic, however, proved too muscular for the one attacker.
It was a penalty appeal at the start of the second half that started to spice the game to life. Ryan Giggs’ tug was evident, but initial contact was indeed outside of the box. Webb, however, opted to give neither a penalty nor the merited free-kick.
Wayne Rooney was introduced mid-way through the second half. The Englishman has scored 48 Premier League goals on Sundays, more than any other player, and sat just behind Van Persie as United sought the winning goal.
But as time wore on, it looked more and more likely like Chelsea would steal the spoils. Torres came on for Moses as Chelsea rallied.
Lampard, who was playing his 30th game for Chelsea against Manchester United, the first player to do so, played a delicious ball into the box to Juan Mata, who found himself free, but unable to jump high enough. Had it been role reversal we might have seen the game’s first goal.
A Chelsea vs. Manchester United tie always usually provides talking points, and this the 42nd meeting between these two sides — with each having recorded 13 wins — was to do in the final stages.
Wayne Rooney was challenged fairly by Ramires, and the Brazilian started the saunter up-front. A mis-placed pass looked to be the end of the counter, but Evans was generous enough to pass the ball back to Mata.
The Spaniard fed to Ramires, whose lay-off to Oscar was deft. His compatriot then found Mata on the edge of the box, and his shot took a vital deflection off Jones’ knee. The ball hit the inside of the post and in.
David Luiz has been much of Chelsea’s story this season and with his disgust at picking up a yellow card an ominious sign of things to come, so he was involved in the game’s next card.
Shielding the ball from Rafael, Luiz cleverly allowed the ball to run out for a goal-kick. Rafael’s kick was late and malicious, and whilst Luiz was by no means seriously hurt, Webb and Sian Massey deemed it necessary to show the full-back his marching orders, that brought the match to a hectic end.