Manchester United 2 Chelsea 1
Manchester United moved to within a point of a record 19th league title as first-half goals from Javier Hernandez and Nemanja Vidic proved enough to defeat nearest challengers Chelsea at Old Trafford.
Hernandez gave the Red Devils a flying start, putting them ahead with his 20th goal of the season after just 36 seconds.
Vidic powered home a second from Ryan Giggs’ cross and although Frank Lampard pulled one back, a single draw from games against Blackburn next Saturday and Blackpool on the final day of the season at Old Trafford will secure a 12th Premier League crown for Sir Alex Ferguson.
The most eagerly-awaited of contests had the most explosive of starts as Ryan Giggs fed a pass to Park Ji-sung just inside the Chelsea half.
Park quickly pushed the ball on to Hernandez, who was hanging on the shoulder of David Luiz.
When the Brazilian failed to intercept Park’s pass, Hernandez sped through, keeping his cool to finish beyond Petr Cech with only 35 seconds on the clock.
Luiz looked very uncomfortable dealing with Hernandez and sent the striker sprawling when the pair next chased possession.
Valencia then had a shot blocked as the hosts attempted to make the most of their sensational start.
Wayne Rooney then let fly from 35 yards, forcing Cech into a full-length save.
Drogba tried his luck from a similar distance at the other end but the Ivorian’s effort rolled well wide.
United came agonisingly close to grabbing a second when Giggs and Park once again combined, the South Korean crossing to the far post where Hernandez was unable to get a touch, although it did appear Luiz got the faintest of contacts to put the striker off.
Branislav Ivanovic was booked for cutting Rooney down on halfway before the England star flashed a shot narrowly wide at the end of a length of the field move involving four players.
Chelsea’s first opening arrived when Florent Malouda crossed for Drogba. United’s goal survived that scare, then Edwin van der Sar was able to scramble away Salomon Kalou’s shot in somewhat unconvincing fashion.
Ivanovic blocked Rooney off 30 yards from goal and although United wasted the free-kick, Chelsea were unable to clear the danger and Park brought another fine save out of Cech with a shot from an acute angle.
Chelsea were caught sleeping at the corner as Park sprinted up to allow Giggs to take it short.
The veteran Welshman nipped past Kalou to reach the byline, then crossed into the heart of the Chelsea box where Vidic stole in front of fellow Serb Ivanovic to power home a close-range header.
Van der Sar ensured Chelsea did not pull a goal back immediately as he pushed away Kalou’s point-blank header, with Ivanovic hooking the rebound into the side-netting.
Drogba’s curling free-kick brought another excellent save out of Van der Sar before the striker’s next effort bounced harmlessly wide.
Chelsea were now controlling possession, although United seemed content to play on the counter-attack.
Rooney was booked for an ugly challenge on Luiz, then Ivanovic was very lucky referee Howard Webb opted not to take any action against the defender when he trod on Rooney’s ankle.
The United forward reacted to the taunts of the Chelsea fans before Michael Essien was booked for felling Park and Valencia fired over from long range.
Ancelotti had to do something. Luiz was an obvious candidate to be replaced, as he was by Alex, and John Obi Mikel was also hauled off for Ramires, meaning Torres only had one remaining chance of making it on the field at all.
United were also forced into a change, with Jonny Evans replacing John O’Shea at left-back.
The running battle between Rooney and Ivanovic continued as the United man went over, although if there had been any contact it was minimal and there was no appeal for a free-kick.
Malouda’s low shot went wide, then Webb decided Frank Lampard had not deliberately blocked Valencia’s cross with his hand, although it could easily have been a penalty.
Kalou went down under Vidic’s challenge at the other end, with Webb equally unimpressed by the penalty claims.
John Terry was at full stretch to ensure Valencia’s deep cross did not reach Giggs and with no comeback in sight, Torres replaced Kalou after 61 minutes.
Valencia went on his own rather than releasing Hernandez as United countered and though the Ecuadorian ran into a wall of Chelsea defenders, he also had a decent penalty claim ignored when he was tripped by Terry.
Then Alex’s 35-yard shot was saved comfortably by Van der Sar, and Drogba was penalised for handball as he controlled Cole’s pass before firing narrowly wide.
Almost from nowhere, Chelsea pulled one back 21 minutes from time when Ivanovic climbed to reach Ramires’ cross and nodded it down for Lampard, who prodded home from close range.
United nearly snuffed out the visitors’ lingering hopes immediately though as Hernandez nicked possession away from Ramires and darted into the penalty area.
The Mexican’s square pass seemed to have presented Rooney with a tap-in but, amazingly, Alex slid across to make a crucial goalline clearance.
At one point United had three men down as they were forced to do more and more defending, although Rooney failed to convert a hat-trick of chances to seal the contest.
Terry was forced out of defence due to injury and then Ramires was booked for chopping down Giggs as the game lost its shape completely.
In the ensuing attack, Hernandez headed Valencia’s cross over from six yards.
Torres fired wide at the other end before Fabio was replaced by Chris Smalling.
Drogba was booked for fouling Carrick in the final minute, by which time Chelsea were resigned to their fate.