Sun, 05 May 2013 23:00:00 GMT | By AFP

Chelsea edge United to close on Champions League

Juan Mata's late goal took Chelsea third in the Premier League table


Chelsea edge United to close on Champions League (© AFP)

Manchester: Juan Mata's dramatic late goal earned Chelsea an unlikely three points in their quest for Champions League football as they secured a 1-0 victory at Premier League champions Manchester United on Sunday.

The Chelsea midfielder struck at the end of a rare flowing move in the 87th minute -- Ramires' back-heel finding Oscar, whose pass to Mata allowed his team-mate to drive the ball home via a deflection -- to lift his team into third place in the table.

To add to United's dissatisfaction, substitute Wayne Rooney claimed he had been brought down just outside the Chelsea penalty area in the seconds leading up to the goal.

It was a rare moment of memorable attacking play in an otherwise forgettable contest and a goal that ensured an ill-tempered conclusion to the game, with United defender Rafael da Silva shown a straight red card two minutes later.

The Brazilian hacked at the ankles of countryman David Luiz as the pair tussled for the ball near the corner flag, and players from both sides engaged in a subsequent shoving match.

There had been pre-game speculation over whether United manager Alex Ferguson would shake the hand of opposite number Rafael Benitez, with whom he has a frosty relationship, but the veteran manager went out of his way to seek out the Chelsea interim coach on his way to the bench.

Ferguson had taken the controversial step of resting key personnel and handed starts to reserve goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard and midfielders Anderson and Tom Cleverley.

It was a selection that will have raised eyebrows at Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, the clubs in direct competition with Chelsea for Champions League places.

United's performance will have done little, therefore, to allay fears that this is a United side that is far from firing on all cylinders.

After just three minutes, Mata picked out Demba Ba at the far post and the forward heading just wide while off-balance.

The Senegalese striker then miskicked horribly from a promising position, the chance created after Lindegaard had flapped at a Mata cross unconvincingly.

Errors by Patrice Evra and Phil Jones then handed the visitors two more promising openings.

First, Lindegaard did well to turn a shot from Oscar onto his post before smothering the rebound, then Mata laid the ball off for Victor Moses, whose 18-yard shot rose harmlessly over the United goal.

Robin van Persie just failed to make clean contact as he ghosted in to meet a superb through-ball from Ryan Giggs and shot wide, but moments of quality such as that displayed by United's Welshman were few and far between.

Before the interval, Oscar rifled wide from just inside the area, Giggs volleyed an Antonio Valencia cross over, and Van Persie headed a Nemanja Vidic cross directly at Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.

The attacking quality scarcely improved after the restart as Ba slid in and turned a Moses cross wide, while Mata won a free-kick in a promising position after being brought down by Evra, but succeeded only in placing the dead ball directly into the wall.

Somehow, the second half produced even fewer chances than the first, with Mata underlining the point when he narrowly avoided connecting with Frank Lampard's cross from close range after 77 minutes.

Branislav Ivanovic, meanwhile, was required to perform a rare piece of defending for Chelsea as he intercepted a dangerous Rafael cross.

Belatedly, the game burst to life at the death, with Mata's shot, which took a deflection off Phil Jones, condemning United to defeat, as the hosts failed to score for the first time in 67 home games.

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