Rob Wightman`s Premier League Story
Manchester United 1 Chelsea 0
There is something deliberate about every remark Sir Alex Ferguson makes.
He is a master of saying just the right thing to motivate his players and disquiet opponents.
So it was no great surprise that after the United manager bemoaned his team`s lack of leaders in the morning`s newspapers, he found he had them all over the field.
In a pulsating first-half, United showed more passion and belief than at any other time in the campaign.
They were determined and focused, no doubt stung by recent disappointing results and heavy criticism.
Rio Ferdinand showed the composure and determination that have otherwise deserted him this term.
Darren Fletcher was full of running despite being deployed on the right wing, a position in which he isn`t truly comfortable. Wayne Rooney was as energetic and skilful as ever.
Fletcher it was whose looping header gave United a deserved half-time lead. But nobody personified the spirit of endeavour and purpose more than the robust Alan Smith.
Chelsea`s passing and rhythm were clearly upset by United`s quick closing-down - never more so than when Paul Scholes, Fletcher and Rooney charged Frank Lampard`s free-kick shortly before the break.
After the break, though they conceded possession easily and frequently, Ferguson`s men displayed true resolve.
This was the sort of backs-to-the-wall victory United no longer seemed capable of producing. Its impact on morale and belief should be huge.
South Korea`s Park Ji-Sung had to wait until the 82nd minute for his chance to help the United cause, as a substitute for skipper Ruud van Nistelrooy.
But help he did, pressing and tackling with the determination of a man who is truly committed to his team.
This was Jose Mourinho`s first defeat against Manchester United and Chelsea`s first in the Premier League for 40 matches.
Though they had the air of champions, pegging United back for long periodsin the second half, the equaliser never came.
The home side repelled the pressure, with Smith, Ferdinand and Fletcher brave and resolute throughout.
Chelsea`s best opportunity fell to Lampard, but Edwin van der Sar bravely smothered the midfielder`s shot at point-blank range.
Ferguson was understandably delighted with the outcome and the way his players bounced back from woeful performances against Middlesbrough and Lille.
"All our staff and players have shown great dignity," he said. "The best players today were on our team."
Mourinho, of course, disagreed. "We didn`t deserve to lose," the Portuguese insisted.
But he conceded: "I give United credit because of the way they defended, they fought."
So maybe the Premiership isn`t the foregone conclusion we thought it was. A massive 10-point gap still separates United from leaders Chelsea, while Wigan are surprisingly in second place with six points fewer than the champions.
But if United can consistently produce the organisation, desire and killer instinct they showed in beating Chelsea,a fantastic battle may lie ahead.