Nine-man Chelsea were harshly on the wrong side of a five-goal thriller, after several controversial decisions.
Manchester United, who got off to a flying start with two goals inside 12 minutes, were left to thank Mark Clattenburg and his team for coming away with all three points, despite a spirited Chelsea comeback.
Branislav Ivanovic’s red card allowed United more possession, but a Torres red-card soon after opened the floodgates for attacks. Chelsea, to their credit, did not let that happen, with just the one goal from United when it could have become humiliating, and even that goal was offside.
Whenever these sides meet there is guaranteed fireworks. But from the two red-cards, to the wrong offside calls, to the row between Steve Holland and Alex Ferguson, nobody could have quite predicted such a fiesty encounter, which lit up a bitterly cold, cruel day for the Blues.
It all started so unfortunately for the European Champions. United were fast off the blocks, and with Ashley Cole not covering himself in glory down United’s right, it was only a matter of time before the deadlock was broken.
Di Matteo, however, would have hoped it was not as soon as four minutes, with Van Persie’s effort cannoning off the post and trickling into the net off David Luiz’s back.
It was the sort of unlucky sign which foreshadowed the entire game for Chelsea, and though they battled to restore parity, one became two for the visitors, when Van Persie doubled his tally for the afternoon, sweeping home from another drill down the right-hand side, this time turning in Valencia’s drive.
It was the sort of start which Chelsea had been accustomed to, but coming back from 2-0 down against a well-drilled side is no mean feat.
David Luiz set about restoring the damage done, but his Ronaldo-esque free-kick was stopped unconventionally by David De Gea, who had a commanding game.
But Chelsea rallied, dominating the latter stages of the half, when more focus on the first part might have been more wise.
John Obi Mikel’s cross was helped onto the post by the outstretched leg of Jonny Evans, before the ensuing corner saw Gary Cahill’s header cleared off the line by Rooney.
Chelsea had to make full use of the momentum, and were it not for a magnificent De Gea save from a Torres header, the deficit would have been halved.
Indeed, it duly was at the next surge. A petulant Rooney foul brought up a Mata free-kick, and the Spaniard curled home a fantastic effort past De Gea, to become Chelsea’s top scorer in all competitions this season.
Half-time came at the wrong time for the Blues, but the momentum continued into the second half, with United restarting on the back foot, as Chelsea looked to take charge.
And they made that show in the scoreline, when Ramires equalised for the home side. Fantastic play involving Oscar and Mata saw the ball lifted into the penalty box, where the Brazilian Ramires nodded home, to bring Chelsea level.
United were rocking, and have not won in their last 10 league visits to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea, on the other hand, were the only side in PL history with more wins than defeats against United, and that record looked to be extended had Hazard been a little less wasteful.
But as quickly as Chelsea gained momentum, so they had lost it. Ashley Young was sent clear, and minimal contact by Ivanovic was enough to see the Serbian red-carded for being the last man.
Would that change the outcome of the match? Well, the next one would. Seeing their one-man advantage, Ferguson sent on Hernandez, but before Chelsea could make a similar substitution with Sturridge for Torres, the Spaniard found himself taking an early bath too.
A clever run was blocked by Evans, and when the Northern Irishman protested in innocence that that was not a bookable offence, it was to his surprise Clattenburg went to Torres and book the striker instead.
Then, fireworks, anger, frustration. Di Matteo was furious Clattenburg hasn’t allowed the substitution at an earlier break in play, but if that got him wound up, the winner would push him to the limit.
Cech somehow squirmed away a Van Persie shot, but the rebound found Hernandez half a yard offside, but the goal stood.
Chelsea were seething. United opted to park the bus this time. It was a case of so near, yet so far for the Blues, who had fought heroically to claw the match back, but ultimately, all in vain.