Honours Even At Old Trafford  (Sky Sports)

Manchester United 1 Chelsea 1

Saha and Carvalho in actionManchester United retained their precarious Premiership supremacy after an entertaining 1-1 draw against reigning champions Chelsea at Old Trafford.

The tie had been billed as the answer to where the balance of power now lies in English football after United's super start to the season, but a sometimes bruising stalemate only revealed there is precious little between the two sides - aside from three points - as the season enters the winter programme.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side struck the first blow through Louis Saha's cultured finish just before the half hour mark, but Chelsea changed the face of the game with a much improved display after half time.

It was Ricardo Carvalho who levelled matters with a thumping header to deny United their eighth Premiership win in a row, but keeping The Blues at arms length is still a crucial achievement for Ferguson after two seasons of chasing Chelsea's shadow.

The first quarter of the game boasted plenty of sound and fury, but ultimately little of significance as United just about shaded the opening exchanges in a tightly fought contest.

Wayne Rooney - having committed to a new contract on Saturday night - had the first sight of goal but his header was wayward from Ryan Giggs' lofted free-kick.

Jose Mourinho, meanwhile, had seen both Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack shrug off knocks to start at Old Trafford, and the German captain was appealing in vain for a penalty after four minutes when seemingly being obstructed by both Nemanja Vidic and Gabriel Heinze from Frank Lampard's free-kick.

After such an intense build up to the tie both sides had adrenalin coursing through their systems and the game unsurprisingly witnessed a number of full-bodied challenges. However, it was a handball from Ballack that allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to launch a trademark free-kick at goal that Carlo Cudicini had to tip over.

With both defences proving as resolute as their impressive records so far this season suggested, United suddenly fashioned the opener out of nothing as a goal looked somewhat unlikely when Rooney played in Saha 20 yards from goal just before the half hour mark.

However, the French striker put his penalty miss against Celtic behind him by taking his time to measure an inch-perfect curling shot around his marker Carvalho and past Blues keeper Cudicini to send Old Trafford into raptures.

Going behind had clearly irked Drogba who responded to a hefty challenge from Heinze by using his elbow in a subsequent aerial challenge with Vidic - earning himself a yellow card from referee Howard Webb whilst sparking a heated confrontation between both sets of players.

In what remained of the first half Geremi saw a thumping effort parried clear, whilst Lampard also failed to beat Edwin van der Sar with a snapshot from the edge of the box as Chelsea attempted to battle their way back into the tie.

Mourinho reshuffled his side at the break by introducing Dutch winger Arjen Robben in place of Geremi, with Michael Essien being asked to revert to right-back as a result, but United had a great chance to add a second after 49 minutes.

When Rooney burst into the box he could have gone down to claim a penalty when having his shirt tugged by Drogba, but after staying on his feet the England star played the ball across goal and both Saha and Ronaldo failed to get the necessary contact to test Cudicini.

However, Chelsea did exert more pressure on the hosts in an markedly improved display after the break, and Andrei Shevchenko - restored to the starting line-up - should have done much better when he lifted a shot over the bar after United failed to clear on 53 minutes.

Mourinho's side began to dominate possession and surge forward, but on the break Heinze then produced a superb cross that Ronaldo chested into the path of Saha. However, the former Fulham man seemed to be put off by Terry as he completely took his eye off the ball and failed to offer a shot.

The chance was very much a brief respite from the Blue tide encroaching on the United box, with Lampard lashing a shot wide and Drogba heading off-target, and as the game opened up into an enthralling encounter as both Giggs and Lampard again saw fierce shots saved at the near post.

United were unable to hold out and with just over 20 minutes to go Carvalho produced a bullet header from a Lampard corner which flew past van der Sar via the head of Saha and the underside of the crossbar.

It was no more than the reigning champions deserved given their efforts after half time, and the equaliser did little to calm the frantic pace of the game as Scholes then saw his low drive inadvertently deflected wide off Saha.

Mourinho instigated a further change by introducing Joe Cole for the ineffective Shevchenko after 75 minutes, and after Lampard fired another shot over the bar The Blues were left sweating when Ronaldo saw an effort deflected wide of the post.

From the resulting corner Vidic sparked angry protests from The Blues for a messy aerial challenge on Cudicini, and Ashley Cole replied by chopping down Ronaldo in a challenge that resulted in the Portuguese winger being taken off along with Saha - seemingly due to a hamstring problem - with Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea on in their place.

Claude Makelele went close with an unlikely volley in the dying minutes, but with neither side able to conjure up a winning goal as United finished the game in the comfortable position of enjoying a three-point advantage at the top of the table.

Manchester United

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Territorial Advantage



Manchester United Van der Sar, Ferdinand, Heinze, Neville, Vidic, Carrick, Giggs, Ronaldo (Fletcher 86), Schles, Rooney, Saha (O’Shea 86)
Subs Not Used Kuszczak, Evra, Silvestre
Booked  Carrick
Goals  Saha 29

Chelsea  Cudicini, Carvalho, A. Cole, Terry, Ballack (Ferreira 90), Essien, Geremi (Robben 46), Lampard, Makelele, Drogba, Shevchenko (J. Cole 75)
Subs Not Used  Hilario, Boulahrouz
Booked  Makelele, Drogba, A. Cole
 Carvalho 69

Attendance  75,948

Referee  H. Webb

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