It was not quite Billy Bremner's fight with Kevin Keegan, and no-one got sent off or left the pitch bare-chested, but when Michael Ballack floored Patrice Evra with a forearm to the chest you did get the feeling that this was the start of another gloriously truculent, spiky English football season.
The old bad blood was suddenly revisited: Wayne Rooney berated the referee Chris Foy and Sir Alex Ferguson, in a Homer Simpson-style short-sleeved shirt, did the same when the game finished for penalties. Chelsea counter-attacked for their second goal while Evra lay prostrate on the turf and the Manchester United left-back was still complaining about his treatment when the United players were waiting to take their penalties.
Granted, it was not the same feverish pitch as Bremner's and Keegan's punch-up in the 1974 Charity Shield but 25 years on, there was not much charity and very little community spirit. Nevertheless, Ferguson's analysis of the game's turning point – that Chelsea goal which was scored while Evra was on the ground – cut to the heart of a matter which has the potential to be one of the big issues of the season.
Ferguson was correct when he said that a referee must be consistent when a player goes to ground: he must stop the play on every occasion or not at all. Ferguson identified two occasions when Foy had called play to a halt for players on the ground and contrasted that to the moment in the 70th minute when Ballack floored Evra and Chelsea surged forward to score. It is a grey area that does the game no favours.
Yet this was a match that had plenty of life even before Chelsea's contentious second goal. It had a brilliant opening goal from Luis Nani who, in that brief moment looked a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, but did little else and later left the pitch with a dislocated shoulder. Then Chelsea came surging back, that old powerful machine looking just as daunting despite being shoehorned into Carlo Ancelotti's new formation.
Ancelotti: one game, one trophy. Even though after Rooney's 92nd-minute equaliser it did not look like this was to be Chelsea's day. Chelsea had muscled their way back into the match with an equaliser from Ricardo Carvalho and a goal from Frank Lampard but with time slipping away Rooney exchanged passes with Park Ji-sung and bulldozed past the challenge of Jose Bosingwa to score.
Welcome, Carlo, to a lifetime of trying to beat Manchester United. However, like Jose Mourinho in his first game in charge of Chelsea five years ago, the Italian coach won in the end courtesy of two very dodgy penalties from Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra.
The latter, evidently still nursing a sense of injustice from his tangle with Ballack, tapped a penalty so tame at Petr Cech that the Chelsea goalkeeper might have gathered it without diving.
Having dragged themselves back into the game in the dying moments, United tossed it away with two dreadful penalties – only Michael Carrick scored from their three. Over the course of a hot afternoon this game had actually started to mean something to the combatants, so when Salomon Kalou struck the winning penalty, the Chelsea players even began to sprint towards him until they remembered the nature of the prize at stake.
In his seat in the Wembley stand it looked like Fabio Capello was sporting another new pair of designer spectacles although it was tempting to think that not even rose-tinted lenses will have rescued Ben Foster's performance. The United goalkeeper came perilously close to gifting Didier Drogba possession in the first half and then, when Florent Malouda crossed for Drogba on 52 minutes, he flapped at the ball.
It was headed home by Carvalho and Chelsea were back in the game. They had gone behind to Nani's 10th-minute strike, one of his trademark runs from the left, he cut in on his right foot and buried the ball in the far corner of Cech's goal. There was a moment of misunderstanding between the Chelsea goalkeeper and his captain John Terry who both seemed to leave it to one another.
Terry had tested the water with the Chelsea fans by gingerly applauding them as he and his team-mates warmed up and the reception was so positive he must now believe that he has got away scot-free with his summer flirtation with Manchester City. The worry for Chelsea was Branislav Ivanovic at right-back who had a disastrous start to the game against Nani, was booked for a foul on Evra and replaced at half-time with Bosingwa.
It was telling that neither starting line-up included a single player acquired during the summer – both these clubs have, to a great extent, been forced to settle for what they have got in football's new financial world order. And for United and Chelsea, the reliance was on the same old characters: Rooney, Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Drogba all looked like they will be dominant figures again this season.
Yet for United, the fear about the goalscoring threat which disappeared when Ronaldo left in June hung heavy. Dimitar Berbatov started strongly, denied a goal by Cech's save in the 17th minute but once again the United striker faded. Rooney only really got free of the Chelsea defence when Ryan Giggs opened up the Blues with seconds left. Michael Owen, a late substitute, got booked for a handball and did little else.
The real drama was in Evra's feud with Ballack, who entered the game on 65 minutes. The German offered the hand of peace in the aftermath of the game, but you get the impression this one will run and run. It seemed to have its roots in a feud that pre-dated yesterday's game and the two players were at it almost from the moment that Ballack came on to the pitch.
On 70 minutes, Ballack smashed Evra with his arm and from Carvalho's clearance, Drogba crossed for Lampard to score. A few minutes later, Evra caught Ballack lingering on the ball and dispossessed him brutally but fairly. "Ballack did not complain [about the tackle]," Ferguson said, "and that's unusual." Evra was booked. Fingers were pointed. If the season starts as red-blooded as this, Saturday can't come quickly enough.
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Ivanovic (Bosingwa, h-t), Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; Mikel (Ballack, 65); Essien, Lampard, Malouda (Deco, 76); Drogba, Anelka (Kalou, 83). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Bosingwa, Alex, Belletti.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Foster; O'Shea (F Da Silva, 75), Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Park (Giggs, 75), Fletcher (Scholes, 75), Carrick, Nani (Valencia, 63); Berbatov (Owen, 75), Rooney. Substitutes not used: Gibson, Kuszczak (gk).
Booked: Chelsea Ivanovic; Manchester United Berbatov, Evra, Owen.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Man of the match: Cech.
From the spot
Frank Lampard confidently steps up to score the first penalty for Chelsea. Manchester United's first penalty taker, Ryan Giggs sees his penalty saved by Petr Cech handing the Blues the early advantage.
*Michael Ballack scores for Chelsea,
* Michael Carrick replies for the Reds to make it 2-1.
*Didier Drogba scores the third penalty while Patrice Evra's tame kick is saved with ease by Cech, Chelsea lead the shoot-out 3-1.
*Salomon Kalou scores the deciding spot-kick to give Chelsea a resounding 4-1 victory in the shoot-out.Reuse content