Chelsea prove title credentials

Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0

The eyes had it. For much of this intense, high-tempo clash Claudio Ranieri was rolling his at every minor blemish - such is his passionate commitment to the cause - but in the end the animated Italian was able to do exactly what he had dreamed of.

His gaze met Sir Alex Ferguson's not just as an equal but as a victor. Eyeball to eyeball. Whether or not he will be the Manchester United manager's better come the end of the season only time will tell. United are a dangerous team to dismiss. Experience has taught the Premiership that, especially with the autumn leaves on the ground. But this victory - by another single goal, another clean sheet (astonishingly their sixth in succession) - elevated Chelsea to the top of the pile and pumped up an already inflated local expectation. Don't be fooled by its slenderness, or the Chelsea coach's histrionics. The team that is worth an awful lot were worthy winners.

Chances were spurned, opportunities passed, in a committed encounter and yet it was a penalty, correctly garnered after a hairline decision by Roy Keane not to withdraw from a probably needless challenge, that settled it. In the end the champions got what they deserved. There was a conservatism to their play which betrayed the club's attacking instincts. Their claws were withdrawn and, with that, disappeared much of their menace.

Most concerning of all for Ferguson is that they appeared a team more in transition than their hosts, who are very definitely contenders - and, last night, were installed as the bookmakers' favourites.

Although it was United who rotated their line-up to a greater extent after the efforts of qualifying for the next stage of the Champions League, it was Ranieri, again, who sprung the surprise. Damien Duff - his most potent attacking weapon - was left on the substitutes' bench. A bench worth £45m, by the way, twice the value of United's.

That Ranieri was then able to introduce the Irishman just before the hour mark simply confirmed the opulence at his disposal. Chelsea started and finished nervously. In between they were impressive nerveless, and never more so than when Lampard dispatched the winning penalty. Such is the midfielder's soaring confidence that he took the kick, in the absence of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. His strike was low to Tim Howard's left. It was awarded after Cole burst onto a clever pass by Hernan Crespo only for the ball to run away. Keane, however, carried on and his outstretched leg checked his opponent's momentum. The tumble was extravagant but the referee was correct.

Until then Keane had been the most potent presence. United flowed through him. Twice Carlo Cudicini was sold short with Ryan Giggs crowded out and then Diego Forlan narrowly failing to intercept. But after the goal United retreated. Mario Melchiot threw himself at a deflected shot only for Howard to parry and then Cole, hurtling through, scooped the ball over.

In a bizarre moment the home side started the second half with 10 men - Geremi caught out as he changed his boots. It was the only mistake they made. United were looking increasingly forlorn - Van Nistelrooy's body language betraying a collective discomfort with only Mikaël Silvestre providing any defensive cohesion. Their paucity was confirmed by a Forlan free-kick which was hacked appallingly into the side-netting. Then John O'Shea broke down the left and crossed for Van Nistelrooy, whose spin and shot was executed with bewildering speed only for the ball to strike William Gallas's leg and dart wide.

But the victory was Chelsea's and, at the end, their substitutes flooded the pitch. United will come again but with a fifth successive league victory and no goals conceded since the loss to Arsenal in October, Chelsea have hit the front as clear-eyed contenders in a three-horse race.

Goals: 1-0 (Lampard, pen 29).

Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cudicini 6; Melchiot 5, Gallas 7, Terry 8, Bridge 5; Lampard 8, Makelele 7, Cole 7 (Duff 58, 6), Geremi 7; Mutu 7 (Hasselbaink 79), Crespo 5 (Gronkjaer 60, 5). Substitutes not used: Ambrosio (gk), Desailly.

Manchester United (4-4-2):: Howard 7; G Neville 6, Ferdinand 5, Silvestre 7, O'Shea 5; Giggs 7, Keane 7, P Neville 4 (Kleberson 77), Fortune 4 (Ronaldo 72, 5); Forlan 5, Van Nistelrooy 5. Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Butt, Bellion.

Bookings: Chelsea: Cole, Melchiot, Lampard, Mutu. Man Utd: Keane.

Referee: A Wiley 4 (Burntwood).

Man of the match: Lampard.

Attendance: 41,932.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam