Flops and robbers? Well that was pretty much how Sir Alex Ferguson saw this encounter, the Manchester United manager suggesting the result owed as much to the failings of his own side as the failings of the referee.
Match official Martin Atkinson would not have been on Ferguson's Christmas card list anyway after awarding Portsmouth a decisive, rather dubious, penalty in the FA Cup two seasons ago.
Carlos Queiroz, Fergie's No 2 at the time, called Atkinson a 'robber', Ferguson branded him something only marginally less insulting and both of them ended up facing an FA charge, which the pair successfully fought.
Enlarge Leaping clear: Chelsea skipper John Terry is first to Frank Lampard's pinpoint free-kick as Nicolas Anelka lurks nearby to get the decisive final touch
United did not see Atkinson for the rest of the season, but he was back in charge at Stamford Bridge yesterday and what an impact he made once again.
First came Atkinson's mistake in awarding Chelsea a free-kick for a 'foul' on Ashley Cole by Darren Fletcher; then the sight of Didier Drogba springing from an offside position and doing enough to distract Edwin van der Sar, forcing the Dutch goalkeeper to delay a dive that might just have denied Nicolas Anelka the all-important winner.
Drogba also dragged Wes Brown to the ground before taking up his position on the six-yard line, but Atkinson and his assistants missed that, too. 'Ridiculous,' fumed Ferguson, and he had a point.
Leading by example: Terry celebrates the goal as United's defenders protest
But the United manager was also honest enough to admit that his side lacked their usual potency in attack. That, for all the credit they deserved for the manner in which they defended and their determination in midfield, they were not the side who so impressed at White Hart Lane and Wigan. That, for all the industry of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia, home keeper Petr Cech was never put under any real pressure.
Whether Ferguson will admit this contest finally exposed how much ground his side have lost in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo is hard to say. But a five-point gap to the leaders will be a worry and so will the fact that Chelsea did not even play that well and still came out on top.
If truth be told, United were better than many expected. They have looked lightweight in midfield at times this season, but in Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Anderson they had three men who were a match for Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien.
Wayne's woe: United striker Rooney couldn't breach the Chelsea defence
Fletcher and Carrick provided an almost impenetrable barrier in front of Brown and Jonny Evans, so much so that Ferguson can only wish that Fletcher had been available for that Champions League final against Barcelona.
If they do end up surrendering the title this season, United will go down fighting. That much became apparent yesterday during a clash memorable more for its intensity than the invention of two very good sides.
But Chelsea are now the team to beat. A team who score more than all but Arsenal and concede fewer than anyone. A team who, under Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti, look perfectly prepared and perfectly balanced.
Under pressure: Goal-scorer Nicolas Anelka (left) keeps Rooney quiet
Not since the opening day of the season, and the 2-1 injury-time victory over Hull City, have they conceded a goal at home in the Barclays Premier League and the fact both Liverpool and United have now been here - and failed to score a goal between them - bodes well for what remains of the campaign.
It might also influence what they end up calling Stamford Bridge once they find a sponsor because this place really has become a fortress and Ron Gourlay, the club's new chief executive, would do well to try to reflect that.
Chelsea's desire was almost tangible yesterday. There were moments when their efforts to win this game ventured into dangerous territory, not least when defender Ricardo Carvalho dived in a bid to avoid a booking for a foul on Rooney.
But more often than not success was achieved through honest endeavour. They wanted it that little bit more than United, and it showed.
It showed most of all in the performance of their captain, who woke to yet more shocking headlines about his parents yesterday and still somehow remained focused on the job.
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Terry demonstrated to his team-mates, once again, that nothing will divert his attention from chasing silverware while he is in a Chelsea shirt. It is quite an example he sets and a reason why managers of Chelsea as well as England trust him to lead their teams.
Afterwards, it mattered not to him that the goal had been given to Anelka, only that someone in blue had scored, and that spirit is as evident now as it was during those two title-winning seasons under Jose Mourinho.
Inspired by Terry, Chelsea were so devastatingly effective in the way they competed with United.
Terry might have been a little lucky when a tussle in the 14th minute with the fast-advancing Valencia could have resulted in a penalty, but the sight of Rooney trying his luck from distance summed up the difficulties United were having.
Battle: Michael Carrick (left) gets stuck in to Chelsea's Michael Essien
The England striker went closest with a curling effort in the 68th minute, forcing the one decent save Cech had to make.
In fairness to United, Van der Sar did not have a great deal to do. But when Lampard delivered that 76th-minute free-kick which was met first by Terry and then Anelka, the keeper might have fancied his chances of making a save had he not tried to anticipate the intervention of Drogba.
Van der Sar was furious and so was Rooney. While the United No 1 complained to Atkinson about Drogba, Rooney bemoaned the fact that it should not have been a free-kick in the first place - '12th man,' Rooney appeared to mouth to the television cameras.
Atkinson did not exactly help United, but the better of the two teams, and the team most likely to emerge as champions, still won.
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