Inside Blue Thu 2 Nov 2017
A moment of magic is often required to settle the biggest matches and with the Blues preparing to face Manchester United on Sunday, we look back at when certain individuals have excelled against the Red Devils.
There have been plenty of blockbuster encounters between the two sides throughout the years, with Chelsea often emerging victorious – indeed, the Blues boast the best Premier League record against United.
While the collective effort can always be relied upon, sometimes what is needed is one individual to take the game by the scruff of the neck...
If Chelsea were serious about winning the Premier League title, nothing but a victory would do when we hosted Man United at the tail-end of the 2007/08 season. In the absence of Frank Lampard, whose mother had passed away, Bally stepped up to the plate with a dominant performance from midfield which featured two goals on an emotionally charged afternoon at the Bridge. The result helped take the title race to the final, but the Blues came up just short.
With the 1985/86 season drawing to a close, Dixon’s hopes of a World Cup call-up were hanging by a thread after a stomach injury had left him short of his best and on an 11-match run without a goal. What better way to set the record straight than with a game-winning brace at Old Trafford? His first was a typically cool finish after being sent clear by a slide-rule pass from Mickey Hazard; the second, after United had equalised, featured an example of the classic Speedie-Dixon link-up for the latter to slot home. Two months later he was on the plane for Mexico with the rest of the England squad.
When Eto’o took to the field against Manchester United in January 2014 he became the first Chelsea player to score a hat-trick against the Red Devils since Seamus O’Connell 60 years earlier, as the Blues won 3-1. While it was a magnificent achievement in itself for the Cameroonian ace, it should be noted that O'Connell's treble came on his debut in a 6-5 defeat! However, while Chelsea missed out on the title in the solitary season Eto'o spent at the Bridge, Ted Drake's men secured the championship in 1954/55.
Goalscorers, inevitably, tend to take the plaudits when the Blues are victorious at Old Trafford, but it was a different story altogether in September 1986. Although Dixon’s early goal proved to be the match-winner, it was the performance of goalkeeper our goalkeeper – the Hands of Godden, some might say – that stole the show. ‘They got two penalties within about two minutes of each other in the second half,’ he said, ‘and I saved them both! It was one of the best games I ever played.’
Graeme Le Saux
Claudio Ranieri’s first game as Chelsea boss was a daunting fixture – a trip to the home of the reigning Premier League champions. Fortunately, he had in his ranks a left-back who was intent on restoring pride to a side languishing in 17th place. As far as marauding displays from full-backs go, Graeme Le Saux’s performance was up right up there; his man-of-the-match winning effort saw him have a hand in all three Chelsea goals as we came from 3-1 down to secure a 3-3 draw.
Last, but by no means least, we come to a midfielder who made a welcome habit of popping up in the right place at the right time to bag us a goal. That was apparent during our run to the 1994 FA Cup final, which included a match-winning brace in the semi-final against Luton, but he had also proved his worth in the Premier League by scoring home and away against Man United in 1-0 victories for the Blues. It was a unique achievement and when we faced the Red Devils in the FA Cup final he was the width of the crossbar away from giving us the lead. Instead, we fell to a 4-0 defeat. Football is decided by fine margins – for all the excellence of an individual, sometimes you just need a bit of luck.