Ballack double keeps Chelsea’s dreams alive

Chelsea beat Manchester United 2-1 in a dramatic match at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to pull level at the top of the Premier League and keep alive their hopes of snatching the title from United’s grasp.

Michael Ballack was Chelsea’s scoring hero, deciding the game with an 86th-minute penalty after heading the home side ahead at the end of the first half.

The Chelsea players celebrated that goal by unfolding a number eight shirt with ”Pat Lampard RIP” on the back following the death of midfielder Frank Lampard’s mother on Thursday. He was given compassionate leave by the club and missed the game.

Wayne Rooney equalised for the visitors when his 56th-minute shot went in off the post after a careless backpass from Ricardo Carvalho.

With two matches to play both teams have 81 points, although United remain top because of a better goal difference.

Despite the defeat United will still win the title if they match the same number of points that Chelsea collect from their last two games at Newcastle United and at home against Bolton Wanderers.

United’s last two league games are at home to West Ham United and away at Wigan Athletic.

Ballack’s late winner came after Michael Carrick was judged to have handled a cross from Michael Essien just minutes after Wes Brown appeared to have also handled in the area.

Chelsea’s appeals for that infringement were waved away by referee Alan Wiley, but he pointed to the spot after Carrick handled and Ballack kept his nerve to send goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar the wrong way.

In trouble

Chelsea took the game to United from the kickoff and the visitors found themselves in trouble in the opening minute when Brown’s careless header forced goalkeeper van der Sar to scramble low to his left to save.

The home side, who had to win to maintain their hopes of catching United and winning the title produced some of their most exciting and attacking football for months in the opening stages.

Michael Essien fired over the bar, Didier Drogba shot wide and Joe Cole hit the bar as Chelsea surged forward in the hot spring sunshine at Stamford Bridge where they are now unbeaten for 81 league matches since February 2004.

United, who trained in London on Friday after returning from their Champions League semi-final first leg in Barcelona, looked tired and jaded and lacking the spark that typified many of their performances earlier in the season.

What was already turning out to be a difficult afternoon for them took a turn for the worse when defender Nemanja Vdic was carried off on a stretcher in the 15th minute after Drogba accidentally kneed him in the face as they went for the ball.

The tall Serbian defender, who was hospitalised in Spain with a stomach infection, lost a tooth in the collision and went off with blood seeping from his mouth.

Chelsea maintained the pressure on United with Essien, Joe Cole and Ballack combining superbly in midfield, while United’s attacks petered out ineffectually and it was just reward when the home side went ahead at the end of the half.

Drogba did well to create space for himself and then provided the perfect cross for the unmarked Ballack to head home past Van der Sar’s despairing dive.

United looked far sharper after the break and Rooney’s goal appeared to have secured them what would have been a deserved point before Ballack’s late decider.

I think you saw today we want to win this premiership to take it away from Manchester United. I think we showed people today we can match anybody,” captain John Terry told a television interviewer. – Reuters

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