By Matthew Campbell
Manchester United have all but retained the Premier League title after a fantastic attacking display against title rivals Chelsea in what was a pulsating encounter at Old Trafford.
Man United took a 2-0 lead into the half time break after well taken goals from Javier Hernandez and Nemanja Vidic. Frank Lampard set up an exciting final twenty two minutes by pulling one back for the away side.
Then Alex who came on as a second half substitute did brilliantly to deny Wayne Rooney and United a third when he blocked the strikers effort from close range.
The match demanded a first class refereeing performance and it certainly got that from England’s number one Howard Webb who put in an almost faultless display.
The first half wasn’t the most difficult to referee, however Webb did show three yellow cards, two of which went to Chelsea with Branislav Ivanovic and Michael Essien both going into the notebook. Ivanovic was booked after ten minutes for scything down Rooney near the touchline when there was no need to make a challenge.
The Essien yellow I thought was a little harsh, however he did pull Park back and nowadays that does warrant a yellow card so he wasn’t wrong; however there were challenges in the first half that probably warranted yellow cards that didn’t get them.
However this isn’t a criticism. It was good to see him giving players leeway, opting to talk to them and warn them rather than showing early yellow cards which I think would have spoiled the game.
He tried to let the half flow as well as he could and gave players lots of warnings which was good to see, as the last thing the game needed was somebody seeing two needless yellow cards.
Rooney was the only United player to be carded in the first half after a high and very bizarre tackle on David Luiz. The United striker jumped at the Chelsea new boy and seemed to plant a knee into the head of Luiz, a challenge that left the Chelsea defender feeling a little groggy and left the United man picking up a deserved yellow card.
The second half was definitely the harder to officiate. There were a lot of fouls to judge and three of which Webb felt warranted further yellow cards. All three came in a spell of a mad eight minutes where Didier Drogba and Ramires went into the notebook for Chelsea and Ryan Giggs was booked for United.
All three were deserved with Giggs going into the book for dissent after arguing whether or not Chelsea were ten yards back from a corner kick. The Drogba yellow was a particularly bad challenge and is one of those tackles that is worse than a yellow card but not quite red card material. It could have gone either way in all honesty as a different ref could have shown sent the Ivorian off, however with the way Webb had refereed the game previously, then yellow card was the right decision.
There were three penalty appeals in the second half, two of which he got right, however one should have resulted in a spot kick to the home side. Frank Lampard, who was sliding in to block a cross, had his arm up in the air. The ball struck it and because of the unnatural position of the arm I think a penalty should have been given.
The other two penalty appeals saw both sides being denied a spot kick each. Firstly Chelsea felt they should have had a chance to equalise from 12 yards when Kalou went down under a challenge from Vidic, however it looked to me as though the Chelsea man kicked Vidic rather than the other way around.
The United appeal was for a challenge from John Terry on Antonio Valencia, however I think the former England captain got a slight nick on the ball so Webb was right to wave the appeals away.
Other than the handball decision I think Webb was exemplary. He let the game flow and opted to use his man management skills to good effect rather than showing yellow cards. Although he showed six in total, I can’t argue with any of them and another referee may have shown eight or nine yellows which would have spoiled the game.
United fans probably felt that Ivanovic was lucky to stay on the pitch; however I didn’t see him commit a challenge that warranted a second yellow card so no arguments there.
This was Howard Webb back to outstanding self and it looks now as though the title race is over, however the battle to avoid relegation is not and that is something that United can have a big say in as their last two games are against teams in that scrap to avoid dropping down to the Championship.
Would have been a 10 out of 10 for me had he awarded United that penalty for handball, however Mike Mullarkey was in the better view to see the incident so I think it was his decision to make. All cards were correct and overall he contributed to a good game of football.
My Rating- 9/10
United only need one point from their last two games to guarantee the title will return to Old Trafford. There last two games are against Lancashire sides who are battling to avoid relegation.
They face Blackburn next weekend who, after drawing 1-1 with West Ham this weekend looked to have just about clawed themselves safe, however their match against Blackpool on the final day could be a decisive game at the bottom of the Premier League.
That match doesn’t take place until after Wigan take on West Ham, where a win for Wigan will just about relegate West Ham, meaning there will be three teams battling out for that last place in next season’s Premier League.
Blackpool are best placed after drawing 1-1 with Tottenham on Saturday, however a trip to Old Trafford on the last day is not what Ian Holloway will want. The Blackpool manager will be hoping that Sir Alex plays a weakened team for that encounter because I think the strongest starting 11 for United will be too much for the Tangerines.
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