Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: At last, Chelsea show quality

This was more like the Chelsea we have admired in recent years. Too often this season they have looked like a team on the slide.



They've lacked character, they've lacked class and they've lacked a cutting edge.

They showed all three and a bit more besides last night as they defeated Manchester United 2-1 in a thrilling Premier League encounter at Stamford Bridge.

Boy, did Carlo Ancelotti's side need this.

Apart from a host of inept displays on the field — they have lost SEVEN times in the league this season — Chelsea have once again been the subject of much criticism off it.

The latest incident to besmirch the name of the club came at the weekend when Ashley Cole — that paragon of virtue — shot a young lad on work experience with an air rifle at Chelsea's training ground.

It was an accident, but just what Cole was doing with a gun in a public place raises more concerns about this questionable individual.

Ahead of the visit of United, there were accusations thrown at Carlo Ancelotti that he had lost control of his players.

The Italian firmly denied the theory, but there was no getting away from the fact he and his team were under serious pressure last night.

They didn't crack though, even after going behind to a first-half Wayne Rooney goal. Instead they were inspired, becoming stronger as the game wore on with David Luiz equalising after the break and then Frank Lampard smashing home a late penalty to claim victory.

It was a win that the club desperately needed and in the end I'd say they just about deserved it, though United played their part in a compelling clash of these titans, who have won every Premier League title between them since 2005.

Even with last night's success Chelsea won't retain the crown they won last year. After all, they are still 12 points behind leaders United. True, Ancelotti's men have a game in hand and still have to go to Old Trafford, but the gap is to just too big to close.

In terms of the title race, the London team to benefit most from United's loss was Arsenal, who are just four points adrift and know Sir Alex Ferguson's side face another difficult test on Sunday when they travel to Liverpool.

That will be made all the harder without captain Nemanja Vidic, who was dismissed late on for two bookable offences and will be suspended for the no-holds barred clash.

Vidic was outstanding at the Bridge and will be sorely missed at Anfield.

Others will have to step up for United on Merseyside. Like Rooney perhaps.

He was wonderful at times against Chelsea, but wasteful too in a game that he should NOT have been playing in.

After referee Mark Clattenburg failed to send him off for elbowing Wigan's James McCarthy on Saturday and the FA failed to dish out the appropriate ban, Rooney took advantage of another failure — this time from Chelsea's defence who stood off him just before the half hour allowing the England forward to lash home a low drive from outside the box.

It was a super strike, but I can't help thinking that a few years ago Petr Cech would have stopped it.

Edwin van der Sar may be 40 and retiring at the end of the season, but his reactions are still as sharp as a teenager, as illustrated when he kept Chelsea out before the break with a splendid double save.

He could do nothing on 54 minutes, however, when Luiz, in space, fired home.

Luiz, like record signing Fernando Torres, was signed on the final day of the January transfer window. Unlike Torres though, Luiz has now scored for his new club.

He should also have been sent-off with Sir Alex Ferguson fuming that the gifted young defender didn't see red after a series of rash challenges.

The United boss had a point, though given Fergie's reaction to a certain elbow from one of his own at the weekend, more will laugh than cry at his post match comments.

Chelsea were certainly laughing in the closing stages when Lampard slammed in a penalty after Chris Smalling felled substitute Yuri Zhirkov.

After a pretty desperate season and the shameful Cole controversy, there was at last something to smile about for Chelsea fans with some pride restored at the Bridge last night.

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