United undone by late Mata winner
Published 05/05/2013 | 18:16
Chelsea took a mighty stride towards a place in next season's Champions League as Juan Mata's deflected late winner earned a 1-0 victory over 10-man Manchester United.
The drabbest of affairs seemed certain to end in a goalless stalemate until Mata's shot flicked off Phil Jones and crept in at the far post. United thought they should have had a free-kick earlier in the move and their frustrations boiled over as Rafael was sent off in the final minute for chopping down David Luiz.
The result means victory for Chelsea against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday will seal a top-four spot thanks to their superior goal difference.
With Michael Carrick missing, United were forced to look to Ryan Giggs for some incisive passing and it took the veteran Welshman some time to find his range. In the meantime, both Rafael and Jones burst into the box, only for Petr Cech's massive frame to get in the way.
On the latter occasion, the ball broke to Tom Cleverley, who blazed over, just as Antonio Valencia had done in the opening stages.
The end of season feel was rather at odds with Chelsea's predicament. The Europa League finalists may be good for interim manager Rafa Benitez's CV, but there is no certainty they will be featuring in next season's Champions League yet.
Demba Ba put a couple of chances over, as did Victor Moses in the opening period. Mata belted a free-kick into the United wall and Valencia overhit a cross as Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres were introduced deep into the second half.
The deadlock should have been broken 15 minutes from time when Frank Lampard picked out Mata with a sublime chip into the box, but, unmarked, the Spain midfielder inexplicably failed to make any contact with his header and Rafael bundled away.
It was all rather humdrum until the final five minutes. Rooney felt Ramires had fouled him on the edge of the Chelsea area to win possession in the first place, but once they countered, the visitors always had an extra man.
The ball was eventually ferried out to Mata, whose shot may have been creeping in, but definitely did after it flicked off Jones, bouncing in off the post. United's frustrations boiled over almost immediately as Rafael went through the back of Luiz by the corner flag for which referee Howard Webb produced a red card.