Chelsea and Manchester United launched the English season in explosive fashion as the Blues’ 4-1 penalty shoot-out win in Sunday’s Community Shield was marred by an ugly clash between Michael Ballack and Patrice Evra.
With United keen to prove a point to the critics questioning their ability to cope without Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, and Chelsea trying to impress new boss Carlo Ancelotti, there was a definite edge to a match that finished 2-2 after 90 minutes.
The bubbling tension boiled over in the second half when United defender Evra fell to the Wembley turf in pain after a cynical body-check by Chelsea substitute Ballack.
Referee Chris Foy waved play on, but United’s players wanted Chelsea to kick the ball out so Evra could get treatment. Chelsea refused and Frank Lampard took advantage to score, much to the frustration of Evra, who became involved in a row with Ashley Cole and then scythed down Ballack to earn a booking.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s team had taken an early lead when Nani drove home from the edge of the area. Ricardo Carvalho equalized after halftime before Lampard’s controversial strike, but Wayne Rooney leveled for United in injury-time.
For Ancelotti, the feisty encounter was an ideal introduction to the no-holds-barred nature of English soccer, while United could take heart from a determined display that showed they won’t give up their three-year reign as champions without a fight.
After a disappointing start to his career at Old Trafford, Nani has the chance to make amends this year. Ronaldo’s departure has opened up a berth for the Portuguese winger on the left and he gave a glimpse of his potential with a fine strike to put United ahead in the 10th minute.
Collecting Darren Fletcher’s long pass, Nani shifted away from Bransilav Ivanovic and Michael Essien before firing in a powerful drive that flashed past unsighted keeper Petr Cech into the far corner.
If Cech could have done better with that one, there was no questioning his agility when he plunged to his left to claw away Park Ji-sung’s shot and then kept out Dimitar Berbatov’s flicked effort.
Just as he did at AC Milan, Ancelotti used a midfield diamond formation that saw Frank Lampard deployed just behind Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, while John Obi Mikel shielded the back four.
The system may need some work, however, judging by the way United, and Nani in particular, were able to find holes in Chelsea’s defense in the first half.
United goalkeeper Ben Foster, selected ahead of Tomasz Kuszczak as the stand-in for the injured Edwin van der Sar, had a chance to underline his England credentials, but he looked nervous at times and twice dallied dangerously over back-passes when a quick clearance was needed.
Fletcher’s curling effort forced a brilliant tip-over from Cech before halftime, but it took Chelsea just seven minutes of the second half to equalize.
When Florent Malouda lobbed a cross toward Drogba, the Ivory Coast striker collided with Foster and accidently floored the United keeper, giving Carvalho time and space to direct a diving header into the empty net.
Nani left the field in obvious pain after 60 minutes clutching his arm and was replaced by new signing Antonio Valencia.
“He has dislocated his shoulder and the worrying thing was is that we couldn’t put it back in straight away,” United manager Alex Ferguson told reporters, without confirming how long Nani would be out for. “He will definitely not play for Portugal in the week.”
Lampard’s controversial strike arrived in the 70th minute. Ballack clearly blocked off Evra, but Foy didn’t give the foul and Chelsea broke through Drogba, whose pass allowed Lampard to drive home via the post.
United protested furiously that play should have been stopped as Evra had a head injury and the French star became involved in an argument with Blues defender Ashley Cole.
Evra was clearly incensed and made a crude attempt to seek revenge on Ballack with a lunging tackle that earned a booking.
That wasn’t the end of the drama. With just a minute of injury-time to go, Rooney ran onto a Ryan Giggs pass, held off Jose Bosingwa and planted a low shot past Cech to send the match to penalties.
Cech saved from Giggs in the shoot-out and then easily kept out Evra’s weak effort, before Salomon Kalou slammed home the winner.
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