Benitez explains Chelsea form

Benitez explains Chelsea form

Published Jan. 14, 2013 6:15 a.m. ET

Manchester United saw off a late Liverpool rally to beat their old rivals 2-1 at Old Trafford and tighten their grip on top spot in the Premier League.

Robin van Persie had given United a first-half lead and Nemanja Vidic extended their dominance in fortuitous fashion early in the second half.

But substitute Daniel Sturridge's first league goal for Liverpool brought the visitors back into the game and there were one or two nervy moments before the Red Devils confirmed the three points.

United took the lead with the opening chance of the game on 19 minutes when van Persie swept home first time from Patrice Evra's low cross following a patient build-up by the leaders.


Van Persie was almost in again on 27 minutes after Ashley Young's pass found him in space just inside the box, but the Dutchman's first-time finish on this occasion flew over the bar.

Joe Allen was enduring a difficult afternoon and the midfielder's loose pass was seized upon by Danny Welbeck before Daniel Agger produced a great block to deny the striker.

Luis Suarez blazed over Liverpool's only shot of the first half before Tom Cleverley flashed a volley wide after Allen's poor headed clearance from Young's cross.

The Red Devils should have extended their lead just before the break, but van Persie's flick from Rafael's cross was cleared off the line by Martin Skrtel and Pepe Reina was hurt in a collision with Shinji Kagawa in the scramble for the loose ball.

United struck again on 53 minutes when Skrtel was booked for hauling back Welbeck and van Persie's delivery was met by Evra, whose header was inadvertently deflected in by Vidic.

Liverpool were quick to respond and pulled a goal back within four minutes when Sturridge, a half-time replacement for Lucas, was sharpest to the loose ball after David de Gea could only parry Steven Gerrard's low drive from outside the box.

Kagawa forced a flying save out of Reina with a deft curler before Glen Johnson, Sturridge and another substitute Fabio Borini all failed to find the target in a five-minute spell of Liverpool pressure.

Sturridge had Liverpool's best chance in the closing stages, but scooped his shot over the bar and United spent the last couple of minutes of stoppage-time deep in opposition territory before Howard Webb blew for full-time.

The Blues were at their best at Stoke's Britannia Stadium on Saturday, thumping the hosts 4-0 to end an unbeaten home Premier League run that went back to February and handing the Potters their worst home defeat since promotion in 2008.

Chelsea arrived in Staffordshire with the heat again on Benitez after back-to-back home defeats, to QPR in the league and Swansea in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final.

The tone was set when interim boss Benitez was roundly booed by his own supporters in his first home game against Manchester City in November, and the fans again made their feelings felt during Wednesday's loss to the Swans.

Since the Spaniard took charge, Chelsea have lost twice and drawn twice at Stamford Bridge, while they have won all but one of their matches on the road.

Benitez said: "Against Swansea it was two individual mistakes but we created a lot of chances and we could have scored a lot of goals.

"The other team is compact and deep and it's not easy to find the space. When you play away the other team is coming against you and you have more space."

Stoke played a large part in their own downfall, with Jonathan Walters scoring two own goals while Chelsea's third came from the penalty spot after Robert Huth was adjudged to have fouled Juan Mata.

Frank Lampard converted and Eden Hazard added a spectacular fourth, while there was still time for Walters to complete a thoroughly miserable day by missing a 90th-minute penalty.

The Britannia Stadium witnessed the return of Chelsea captain John Terry after two months out with a knee injury, although the defender's main contribution in the 20 minutes he was on the pitch was to trip Walters for the penalty.

Benitez said: "I wanted to give him some minutes and see how he was because I watched him the other day with the reserve team. This is a totally different challenge. It was okay, it's the first time so it's fine. It's just a question of fitness now."

Goalkeeper Petr Cech hailed the result at one of the Premier League's most intimidating venues and felt the opening goal came at an important moment.

He said: "It's a great win. This is a big weekend. We had a very difficult game against a very good side at home. Their home record is brilliant so it's very tough to come here every time and get a great result.

"We had to be patient to score a goal. Obviously the goal in the last minute of the first half made a big difference because in the second half they had to open up a little bit more and we punished them."

It was certainly not Stoke's day, and manager Tony Pulis was left to rue an incident in the second half where an opportunity to get back into the game was snatched away.

Andre Marriner pointed to the spot after Matthew Etherington fell under a challenge from Cesar Azpilicueta but the Stoke celebrations were cut short when the referee spotted lineswoman Sian Massey had flagged for offside.

Chelsea's second goal came four minutes later, and Pulis said: "It just didn't go for us.

"The referee gave us a penalty at 1-0, and it was offside, it's a good call, but if that goes for you the game's one each and we've got the impetus.

"I didn't think we deserved to be losing the game coming in after the first half, and up until they scored the second goal I thought we were the better team or the team that looked more likely to score, although Chelsea have got some great players."