Chelsea 2 Manchester United 3
Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres were both sent off and Javier Hernandez scored the winner from an offside position as Chelsea’s unbeaten league record was lost in controversial circumstances.
A disastrous first 12 minutes saw them fall 2-0 behind, an unfortunate David Luiz own goal and a Robin van Persie strike putting Manchester United in command.
Chelsea ended the first half strongly and almost scored when defender Jonny Evans turned John Obi Mikel’s cross onto his own post and Gary Cahill went close with a header from the resulting corner.
Juan Mata’s inch-perfect free-kick and Ramires’ header either side of half-time then wiped out the visitors’ lead.
But in a stormy six-minute period in the second half, Ivanovic saw red for a last-man foul on Ashley Young and Torres was harshly dismissed after picking up a second yellow card for diving.
United made the extra men count as Hernandez turned in Rafael’s cross-shot from close range – but replays showed he was offside.
Chelsea’s defence parted at will early on, allowing United’s attackers far too much space.
They were unfortunate for the first goal, as Van Persie’s shot hit the bar and cannoned in off Luiz, but they were caught napping for the second, as Antonio Valencia fed the Dutchman for a crisp finish.
Chelsea emerged from their early slumber to force United keeper David De Gea into several fine stops, the best from Luiz’s free-kick and Torres’ header.
Mata reduced the arrears on the stroke of half-time with a brilliant free-kick and Ramires crashed home a header just after the break to level.
But after Ivanovic’s dismissal, Chelsea were dealt another blow when Torres was adjudged to have dived despite appearing to be fouled by Evans.
The decision enraged the Chelsea bench, with assistant coach Steve Holland squaring up to United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
And Chelsea were left further aggrieved when Hernandez’s goal was allowed to stand.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Oscar (Azpilicueta 65), Hazard (Sturridge 82), Mata (Bertrand 72); Torres.
Subs not used: Turnbull, Romeu, Moses, Marin.