Manchester United 0 Chelsea 1 match report: Chelsea show steel to put goal within touch

Champions League qualification hopes greatly enhanced after impressive victory

Old Trafford

He cut an unusual figure on Sunday, walking off on his own toward the Old Trafford tunnel: jeered by the Manchester United fans, too unpopular to risk going anywhere near the Chelsea fans. Rafa Benitez was on his own again but life at Chelsea can rarely have felt so good for him.

A win secured in the last three minutes of normal time means that a victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday will deliver Chelsea the Champions League football that Benitez was tasked with delivering when he took over the club in November. Throw in the Europa League final in nine days' time and you understand why some pragmatists in the Chelsea hierarchy think that he would make a good long-term manager if it were not for, well, you know what.

A dreadful game with a rousing conclusion, Mata's shot found its way in past Anders Lindegaard via Phil Jones before Rafael Da Silva was sent off for a very unwise kick aimed at the back of David Luiz's legs in the closing stages. A setback for the young United right-back who has matured considerably this season but at least you could call it progress of sorts. He used to get sent off in games of note, at least now he confines it to the ones that do not matter.

Unfortunately for Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, who desperately needed United to stop Chelsea winning at the very least, Sir Alex Ferguson's team have run out of steam. Even before they secured the title a fortnight ago today they had already been on the decline for a while and now they are simply going through the motions. If Arsène Wenger hoped for something in return today for the sale of Robin van Persie, then he will have been disappointed.

Ferguson's own indictment of his team's performance said it all. They had, he said, "taken their foot off the pedal" there was "no edge". That he would blithely admit to that said it all really, United are cruising to the end of the season and there is little that anyone, including their manager, can do to change that.

It will be painful for Chelsea's two London neighbours who are trying to compete for the last two Champions League places but even so, you have to admire the steel of this team. Last season they rescued a Champions League place by winning the damn thing; this season they have fought their way back into contention. That refusal to let it go characterises this squad.

Beat Spurs on Wednesday and Chelsea's superior goal difference will surely see them through to one of the two Champions League places, whatever happens in the final two matches of the season. As for Benitez he has eliminated United from the FA Cup after a replay and now beaten them at Old Trafford in the league – it would be unbearable for his old foe Ferguson were it not for that trophy awaiting his collection on Sunday.

Ferguson bemoaned Howard Webb's performance but it was Chelsea who felt the most aggrieved by the referee until the closing stages. Yet even Ferguson did not complain about the tackle on Wayne Rooney, a second-half substitute, that began the sequence that ended with the heavily deflected winner.

It was a tidy challenge from Ramires to hook the ball away from Rooney on the edge of the area, and there was contact, although it looked more like the United man running his leg into his opponent. While Chelsea moved the ball forward quickly, United did briefly win it back and then lose possession again before Ramires, tireless, got it back and, via Oscar, the ball reached Mata on the left side of the box.

The Premier League, grumpy killjoys that they are, gave it as a Jones own goal just minutes after the end of the game. Replays were inconclusive but Mata's shot did seem to be running wide of Lindegaard's left post before it flicked off the United man and into the far corner of the goal.

The red card incident between Rafael and Luiz took place right under the nose of Sian Massey, the assistant, who correctly judged that the nasty little kick by the younger Brazilian was a dismissal. In mitigation, Luiz twice thrust an elbow into the chest of his opponent as he stepped across him, attempting to shepherd the ball out of play.

In the aftermath, while still on the ground, Luiz appeared to crack a smile. What he meant by it was hard to divine. It may have looked a bit sneaky but it did not change the fact that Rafael, however much he had been provoked, had lashed out in a fashion that was certain to earn him a red card. It was his fault. Oscar did not help himself by waving imaginary cards. That set off Ryan Giggs who risked a booking himself by waving imaginary cards in an attempt to show Webb what Oscar's transgression had been.

By that stage we were already in injury time and United's sudden desperation to win the game seemed a bit too late to be taken seriously. They had barely created a chance in the entire second half.

Instead, the biggest moment before the goal had fallen for Mata who had failed to get his head on a very inviting cross from the right by Frank Lampard. That was about as good as it got, although one break in which Chelsea outnumbered United's defenders was well stopped by Jones' tackle on Ashley Cole.

On the touchline, John Terry, also left out the side for the Europa League semi-final second leg on Thursday found himself a peripheral figure once again. He will be desperate to play against Spurs on Wednesday but there are no guarantees. There was no contact between him and Rio Ferdinand, also an unused substitute yesterday, but Rooney stopped for a chat while Terry stretched by the side of the pitch.

Petr Cech scarcely had a shot to save all match, with or without Rooney on the pitch. Lindegaard pushed an Oscar shot on to the post in the 14th minute. Jonny Evans was lucky to get away with grabbing Demba Ba's shirt shortly afterwards. It was the first time that United had failed to score in the league since December 2009. Chelsea were far from perfect but, as Benitez knows, it is the wins that count.

Match details

Goal. Chelsea: Jones og 87

Substitutions: Manchester United Buttner 5 (Cleverley, 68), Rooney 5 (Anderson, 69), Hernandez (Valencia, 90). Chelsea Torres (Moses, 76), Ake (Mata, 90).

Booked: Manchester United Vidic, Jones. Chelsea Luiz.

Sent-off: Manchester United Rafael (89).

Man of the match Mata. Match rating 7/10.

Possession: Manchester Utd 51%. Chelsea 49%.

Attempts on target: Manchester Utd 4. Chelsea 6.

Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire).

Attendance 75,000.

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?