Manchester United’s 3-2 away hit and run win at Stamford Bridge has thrown the title race wide open, inflicting Chelsea’s first league defeat of the season.
Will the result give the Red Devils the confidence their young team need to believe they are capable of wrestling the Premiership crown off Manchester City?
Livewire Javier Hernandez’s well timed yet dubious goal stole United all three points last weekend, and their first away win at the Blues in the league since 2002.
Chelsea were reduced to nine men after Fernando Torres received his second yellow card for simulation, following Branislav Ivanovic down the tunnel, who was dismissed for a cynical foul on Ashley Young earlier in the second half.
At half-time, United led 2-1 but had surrendered 63% of possession. They had beaten Chelsea the same way Chelsea themselves had won last year in their famous Champions League ties against Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Sir Alex’s tactics were spot on, utilising pacey wide-men Antonio Valencia and Young in a way reminiscent of the 2008 team that went on to conquer Europe.
The current European champions are so far making all the headlines this week following the controversy that shrouded Torres’ early bath, but even before the incident the Reds had looked lethal on the counter, and strong at the back despite Chelsea’s control of the ball.
The acquisition of a Robin van Persie firing on all cylinders allows Ferguson to employ Rooney in a deeper, more creative, role that many have foreseen him undertaking since his younger days.
Similarly to Paul Scholes, Rooney has a deft touch and a keen eye for pass, and with pace never having been his main threat, it is wise to gradually move him back, especially with criticism over their lack of depth in this area.
Di Matteo’s adaption of a changing team hasn’t quite been so subtle. Instead, Chelsea have moved from a strong, methodical and ruthless side into a delicate, stylish outfit.
In the league so far, their only other major test has come from Arsenal – a team who themselves have often been criticised for being more style than substance.
Roman Abramovich’s eagerness for stylish success has often been the curse of the manager of the time. They either fail to get results or struggle to entertain the Russian.
Time will tell whether Roberto Di Matteo’s European triumph will afford him any more tinkering room, but let’s not forget the haste at which Avram Grant was dismissed after captain marvel John Terry’s missed penalty was the only difference between glory and discarding his runners-up medal into the Luzhniki stands.
Both teams are in transitional periods, grooming young players into the side, and given Manchester City’s success is still in its infancy, you could see any of the three coming out on top of the division come May.
As for United, Ferguson is once again looking to instil the spirit his United teams have always had, the will to grind out result after result in a relentless bid for Premier League supremacy.
Sunday has shown he is well on the way, and his formula is unchanged. Experienced heads Giggs and Scholes both sat on the bench, with the former making a brief appearance towards the end.
Over the last few years, it is unusual that neither would play – Ferguson is clearly showing the confidence in the youngsters that he did when bringing through the class of ’92 and the likes of Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo et al more recently.
United always finish stronger than they start, and if Ferguson can implant consistency at the business end of the season that has been their mainstay for success over the years, most people’s money would be on the title returning to Old Trafford.
Clearly, Ferguson is once again proving he can rise to any challenge and compete with whichever opponent comes to the fore. He is perhaps lucky that Chelsea are not yet quite the polished article and City are struggling with the pressures of battling on both home and European fronts.
One thing will always remain as long as Ferguson is in charge. United will be challengers and turn up for the crunch ties.