This weekend plays host to arguably the match of the Premier League season when Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea take on reigning champions Manchester United in what could be reasonably termed, a championship “six-pointer”.
To honour this occasion, we look back over some of the finest games between these two giants of English football:
You can catch the Soccerlens preview for the Chelsea – Manchester United game and our predictions in this week’s podcast.
1) Manchester United 1-3 Chelsea: Tuesday May 10th 2005
This was the game which not so much underlined the dominance of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in his first season, as highlighted it was a fluorescent marker with stars alongside.
His team was built like a machine, driven by a mixture of ego, talent and plain hard graft. Mourinho had turned promising talents such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, Arjen Robben and Damien Duff into winners with his own brand of brilliant self-regard and willingness to put the noses of the established order out of place.
This was a match that highlighted the gap which Mourinho had managed to construct in his first season in England and that of the previously unbeatable top two of Arsenal and Manchester United. At the beginning of the season this will have been viewed as a litmus test for Chelsea, but the fact that it wasn’t said it all about this team. They entered this match searching for their 29th win of the season and a Premier League record 94 points-and they duly got it.
United were forced to put up a guard of honour to the new champions, a galling feat for born winners such as Roy Keane and Gary Neville, and then proceeded to demonstrate why they had been bested by the champions. On the face of it, United were fielding a full strength line-up including the attacking totems Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney whereas Chelsea were without John Terry and Petr Cech.
Yet for the next 90 minutes United were put distinctly on their proverbial backside. Despite an early typical Van Nistelrooy poached goal, Chelsea struck back through a Tiago effort from long range. Gudjohnsen then struck again, beating Roy Carroll to the ball to score, before a Joe Cole strike sealed the win. That they could win so easily away at their title rivals with a weakened team was poignant, and was a sign of things to come. For the next two years Chelsea were to be the top dogs-this win signified that Chelsea really had arrived.
2) Manchester United 4-0 Chelsea: FA Cup Final 1994 Saturday 14th 1994
Certain games deserve to go down in the annals of history, as much for the score and the match itself, but also for the players and the teams that take part. This match deserves to be remembered so simply for the sheer majesty of Manchester United’s double-winning team of the 93/94 season.
With a mind of the great teams in United history that had come before them, and the sheer brilliance which was to follow they will perhaps never be remembered as fondly as many of United’s teams, but their place in helping establish Manchester United’s hegemony of English football for the next decade and a half deserves credit. This was a team packed with stars, established pros and burgeoning young talents who would go on to light up English football.
The starting line-up held the giant, both in size and ability, Peter Schmeichel, vastly underrated fullbacks Irwin and Parker, the doughty defensive partnership of Bruce and Pallister which was nearing an end and the combative midfield duo of Roy Keane and the Guv’nor Paul Ince. In attack they held future Chelsea striker Mark Hughes, the prolific winger Andrei Kanchelskis (whose time at United remains curiously underrated) and the livewire, soon to be legendary, Ryan Giggs. Yet the real star was Eric Cantona, whose performance in this match prompted the Guardian to say: “Eric the Baton Rouge demonstrated his match-winning qualities in a different way. Chelsea were victims of a guillotine motion. There was no appeal.”
Indeed there wasn’t. Chelsea were not a bad team, in fact they had beaten United twice already that season, but on this day they could not live with them. Gavin Peacock, scorer of the two winning goals against them in their league meetings that year, was sadly anonymous. Yet the game hinged on six second half minutes.
That was all it took for Eric Cantona to take the game away from Chelsea, courtesy of two penalties, one deserved for a Newton foul on Giggs, the other a dubious call against Frank Sinclair-who at this time was reckoned as one of the brighter defensive talents in England (oh how long ago that was!) against Andrei Kanchelskis. After that, there was little hope for Chelsea, Sinclair slipped to allow Hughes through to score before a late Brian McClair goal simply added further gloss to the scoreline. In hindsight, it has merely further enhanced their legend.
3) Chelsea 5-0 Manchester United: Sunday October 3rd 1999
Despite being the dominant force throughout the English footballing epoch which was the 1990s, on certain occasions when Manchester United lost, they lost in earth-shattering inept manners. Certain occasions specifically spring to mind, the 6-3 loss away at Southampton-when Le Tissier and Ostenstad ran riot, that 5-0 defeat at St James’ Park which Newcastle fans probably still remember as well as yesterday. Then there was this day, a game where Manchester United, having been the top dogs throughout the decade, were taught a lesson, and such was the difference between the teams that the paragon of virtue and even-handedness Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to admit: “we were well-beaten.”
In fairness, there is no disgrace in losing to what should be remembered as a potentially brilliant, yet ultimately underachieving Chelsea team. This was a team who could partner Gianfranco Zola-in his illustrious pomp, with £10million signing Chris Sutton, up front. Could boast one of the best attacking midfielders in the league in Gustavo Poyet, working in tandem with a World Cup winning captain in Didier Deschamps. This was hardly a who’s who of football mediocrity.
But United’s team wasn’t bad either, they were on the back of arguably the club’s greatest season ever, and featured the deadly duo of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, David Beckham back when he had pace and was probably at his most effective, Paul Scholes-emerging as a star for club and country, and Jaap Stam in defence-who at that time was probably the world’s best centre half. Yet there was one vital difference between this United team, and the one which had Treble triumphed-this was between the sticks, and a name who will forever send shivers down the fans of United fans everywhere, Massimo Taibi.
It took all of 27 seconds for Taibi’s haplessness to impinge on a potentially crucial match for United, as he charged of his line, clashed with Dennis Irwin and allowed Gustavo Poyet to score. Then a Ferrer cross allowed Chris Sutton to head home his first goal for the club, and just to underline how everything was going Chelsea’s way Nicky Butt was sent off 23 minutes for kicking Dennis Wise right under the referee’s nose.
From then on in, Chelsea merely sauntered to victory. Poyet underlined his class by reacting first to grab his third from close range, then two minutes later Henning Berg’s own goal merely rubbed salt in United’s open wounds, and then ten minutes from the end Graeme Le Saux set Jody Morris away to shoot between Taibi’s legs and send the Stamford Bridge into raptures.
4) Chelsea 5-6 Manchester United: 16th October 1954
Just to prove that there was life before the Premier League, no matter how much certain sports broadcasters (naming no names) may have you believe there weren’t. Here was a game from back in the days when footballers were normal everyday people who spent most of their days in proper jobs such as plumbing and carpentry, well at least that’s what your grandparents said.
Yet this match proved that for sheer excitement, it could compete with anything which British football has since produced. This was a game between a Chelsea team who would emerge from the season as league champions and a Manchester United team who would ultimately emerge from their chrysalis as the Busby Babes, perhaps the most celebrated group of young players that British football has ever seen.
A number of that group were playing in this match, Duncan Edwards-the versatile, multiskilled player who was a boy built like a man, and was so good that Bobby Charlton once described him as “the only player that made me feel inferior.” Then there was Dennis Viollet the lightning quick striker, Bill Foulkes and David Pegg.
Yet on this day they were coming up against a Chelsea team who were in the process of embarking on a title-winning campaign. Led by Ted Drake, himself a fine striker for Arsenal and England, and spearheaded by England international, club captain and top-scorer Roy Bentley-who scored 21 goals that year. The team itself was a team devoid of stars, but was noteworthy for featuring future England manager Ron Greenwood in their ranks.
But on this day this was a pulsating match dominated by the powerful Manchester United team. They raced into the lead, leading 5-2 at half time, but were pegged back by Chelsea, who made the score 5-3 early on in the second half. United scored again to restore their three goal cushion, before late goals from O’Connell and Jim Lewis set up a grandstand finish. Alas, Chelsea were not to pull the game back to 6-6, and making one of the finest comebacks of all time. However one Chelsea man could look back on the match fondly, as the aforementioned O’Connell grabbed a hat-trick-as an amateur inside left making his debut for the club.
5) Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United (Manchester United win 6-5 on penalties): UEFA Champions League Final: Wednesday 22nd May 2008
Quite simply the mother lode of all Manchester United and Chelsea matches. The quality of this match was not the highest, it was in fact a draw with only two goals scored, and its was played on a pitch and in conditions which were hardly conducive to the greatest of football. But for drama, high stakes and sheer gut-wrenching emotion, this match had it in spades.
This was the match of the top two teams in England being played out for all of Europe to see, as they entered into a heavyweight bout against one another which no-one deserved to lose-especially not in the manner they did.
United, enjoying perhaps the finest season they had seen since the Treble winners of 98/99 were the heavily fancied favourites. They had in Cristiano Ronaldo, a player whose utter dominance over the year was reminiscent of a legendary figure such as a Cruyff or Zidane.
In Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra, three of the finest defenders in the world, in Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez a hard-working strike partnership who troubled defenders the world over, and in Owen Hargreaves, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, a midfield blend of energy, passing and measured control which could run any game.
But Chelsea, as they have proved time and time again, are arguably at their most dangerous when they are written off. This was the season which saw off Mourinho, left the club briefly disunited and in disarray, and then introduced an unknown Israeli of little standing and reputation called Avram Grant, who someway, somehow managed to turn their chaotic season around into a three way fight for trophies.
This remained Mourinho’s team, run by Grant, but as formidable as ever. The dominant defence of Terry and Carvalho remained, the energetic Essien was being deployed as a makeshift right-back, Frank Lampard continued to score freely-as he had done so emotionally against Liverpool in the semi-final, and Didier Drogba remained on his day a potential matchwinner.
It was United who struck early, as Michael Essien’s unease at right-back was exploited when Cristiano Ronaldo rose above him to head home a Hargreaves cross. Chelsea struck back with Frank Lampard took advantage of defensive hesitancy to score. Didier Drogba then transformed into the villain of the piece with a lamentable push on Vidic which reduced Chelsea to ten men, yet with neither team able to force a win, penalties came.
Tevez, Ballack, Carrick and Belletti scored before Ronaldo, whose brilliance through the season had saved United, saw his penalty saved by Cech. Lampard, Hargreaves, Ashley Cole and Nani all scored to leave John Terry to step up and stroke home the winning penalty.
Everyone knows what happened next. Terry’s slip sent the ball wide, brought tears to his eyes, and suddenly let United off the hook. Anderson and Kalou both scored before Giggs put United back in front. Then up stepped Anelka, Van der Sar guessed right, and the rest, as they say, is history.