The Premier League continues to be a gripping blend of the sublime, the grubby and the surreal.
This terrific sporting encounter, a game spiced by the brilliance of Robin van
Persie and Juan Mata, was scarred by some poor defending, some hapless
decision-making by the officials and a claim from
The Nigerian midfielder entered the referee’s room after the match and he was
not alone. Chelsea’s manager, Roberto Di Matteo, and others from the home
Their anger was rooted in comments they believe that Clattenburg made to Mikel and one other Chelsea player during the game, comments that would have been heard by the assistant referees and fourth official as they are all miked up.
One complaint is understood to relate to a comment of an allaged racial nature.
If true, these are serious allegations requiring swift investigation by the Premier League and Football Association.
Chelsea were also furious that Clattenburg dismissed Branislav Ivanovic
(correctly) and Fernando Torres (controversially) and then allowed
Clattenburg’s clangers were not quite in the same league as those made by Tom Henning Ovrebro as Chelsea tumbled out of the Champions League to Barcelona here in 2009 but they were still costly.
Torres could have seen red, let alone yellow, for a foot up on Tom Cleverley on the cusp of half-time. In the second half, with Chelsea having fought back from a two-goal deficit, Torres ran through on goal, his journey checked by Jonny Evans, who admitted making contact.
Evans looked briefly worried before Torres looked totally baffled, frustrated and furious when shown a second yellow for simulation. This was no dive, as the mark on Torres’s sock proved.
Clattenburg has been involved in decisions that left United smiling before, including ruling out Pedro Mendes’s shot across the line at Old Trafford in 2005 and Nani nicking the ball off Heurelho Gomes two years ago.
Yet it needs emphasising that Clattenburg is one of English football’s most respected officials, deemed good enough for Fifa duty. He was entirely justified in sending off Ivanovic for clipping the heels of Ashley Young.
United will believe this is a case of what goes around, comes around, and refer back to Martin Atkinson’s leniency with David Luiz here last season, the Brazilian receiving only a yellow for a series of fouls.
The year before, United were livid that Atkinson awarded a free-kick against Darren Fletcher which led to Chelsea’s winner.
The case for referees making a short statement to television, clarifying their reasoning behind decisions, is now unanswerable. The case for managers to be allowed one or two appeals to the video-referee per game grows in credence, although this would require a huge change by Fifa.
This was an extraordinary afternoon at the Bridge, of a myriad sights and sounds. It began with the cameras lingering on the suspended John Terry sitting in the stands with a Kick It Out badge on his tracksuit while the Matthew Harding Stand sang loyally “there’s only one England captain”. At least, Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand shook hands.
A compelling first half then unfolded, Ferdinand paving the way for United’s first by nipping in to nick the ball, allowing Rooney and then Young to drive deep into the hosts’ half.
Young transferred the ball back to Rooney, who was tearing down the right. He picked out Van Persie with a cutback of pace and precision. The Dutchman met the ball first time, sending it against the post, before Lady Luck smiled on the visitors. The ball bounced out but hit Luiz and rolled over the line.
United were running amok down the right, causing constant problems for Cole. United stormed forward again successfully after 11 minutes. Rafael, and then Antonio Valencia combined to catch Cole out.
Again Van Persie’s movement shimmered with intelligence, losing Gary Cahill, running towards the near-post and meeting Valencia’s cross with a right-footed finish.
United were rampant, Ferguson’s tactics totally foxing Di Matteo for a while. Ferguson had changed the narrow system deployed against Braga in midweek. Diamonds are clearly not forever.
The visitors were effectively 4-4-1-1 with Rooney pulling the strings behind Van Persie, often retreating into midfield when Chelsea had possession.
Van Persie tracked back too, conceding a throw-in. This was classic, old-school Ferguson: width and work-rate. For lovers of the traditional: United’s back-four wore the numbers, 2, 5, 6, 3.
Yet there is such talent and determination in this team of Di Matteo’s. Mata guided the ball around the pitch with his usual elegance. Luiz’s free-kick was prevented access to the net only by David de Gea’s foot.
Rooney twice intervened to stop promising balls reaching Eden Hazard, then Oscar. Still the blue waves rolled towards United’s goal. De Gea somehow kept out a Cahill header with his feet, then a Torres header with one hand.
Rooney then made his first real mistake of the half, fouling Hazard and presenting Mata with the type of free-kick opportunity he relishes. Chelsea’s No 10 curled the ball over the wall, beating De Gea.
The momentum seemed with Chelsea. Eight minutes into the second half, they equalised following a fine zigzagging move. Cahill started it, stroking the ball left to Luiz, who slipped it forward to Oscar.
His pass was perfection, swept over the United backline for Mata to collect with a typically adroit bit of instant control. He turned and lifted the ball across. Ferdinand’s attempted interception merely helped it on to Oscar. Ramires, outjumping Cleverley, headed in Oscar’s return.
“We know what we are,” sang the jubilant Chelsea fans. “Champions of Europe.”
De Gea continued to add to his list of saves, denying Hazard with his feet, but Chelsea’s hopes of victory began to fade when Ivanovic was rightly expelled for bringing down Young. Ferguson seized his chance, withdrawing Cleverley and introducing Hernández.
Torres then departed, his face like thunder. Evans looked relieved, having immediately checked on Clattenburg’s reaction to his challenge that caught Torres on the shin.
Chelsea’s mood descended into the heart of darkness. When Michael Carrick found Van Persie, the Dutchman’s shot was turned by Petr Cech on to the post. Rafael drilled the loose ball back in.
Hernández, clearly offside, turned it over the line. Chelsea fans were now in total meltdown, chanting “3-2 to the referee”. The game was over but the fallout continues.