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By Steve Douglas
Chelsea seized the initiative in the race for Champions League qualification by beating already-crowned champion Manchester United 1-0, with Phil Jones' late own goal proving decisive.
Juan Mata's low shot was heading narrowly wide when Jones deflected the ball into the far corner, settling a lackluster match and keeping Chelsea in third place in the Premier League standings.
United defender Rafael Da Silva was handed a straight red card in the final minute for a petulant foul on David Luiz, capping a forgettable display by the new champions who haven't won either of their games since regaining the title from Manchester City.
Chelsea is a point ahead of Arsenal having played a game less, and now just four points behind second-place Manchester City. Chelsea's match against fifth-place Tottenham on Wednesday will have a massive bearing on the fight for the remaining two Champions League spots.
It's the first time since December 2009 that United failed to score at home, a run stretching back 67 games, and manager Alex Ferguson will be unhappy with his much-changed team's pedestrian display against a rival playing its 65th game of a grueling season.
The sub-plots were plentiful ahead of what is always one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures in British football.
There is little love lost between the two managers, Ferguson and Rafa Benitez, while the last league match between the teams - United's 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge in November 2012 featuring two red cards - ended in acrimony when Chelsea midfielder Ramires accused referee Mark Clattenburg of racially abusing teammate John Obi Mikel during the game.
Throw in the long-running feud between United defender Rio Ferdinand and Chelsea pair John Terry and Ashley Cole in the wake of last season's racism scandal involving Terry and Ferdinand's brother, Anton, and there were enough plot-lines at Old Trafford to fill a soap opera.
What materialised was a major disappointment, though, with the match having the feel of a pre-season friendly until coming to life in the final five minutes.
Terry and Ferdinand were named on the bench, ending the debate over whether they would shake hands in the pre-match ritual, and with Ferguson leaving David De Gea and Wayne Rooney on the bench and resting Michael Carrick, Chelsea's chances of a rare win at United improved.
And soon-to-be-deposed European champion Chelsea had the better of a subdued first half, with Oscar having a toe-poked shot tipped onto the post by goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, Victor Moses thrashing an effort over the bar when well-positioned and Oscar then sliding a drive just past the post.
The sides had averaged nearly five goals in their previous six meetings but with this being their fifth match-up of the season - after clashing in the FA Cup and League Cup - they clearly had each other worked out.
Robin van Persie, the league's top scorer with 25 goals, poked wide United's best chance of the first half but the hosts were careless in possession, frustrating a crowd watching United's first home game as champions. The makeshift central-midfield pairing of Anderson and TomCleverley struggled to assert any dominance and Van Persie often cut an isolated figure.
Benitez threw on Fernando Torres for the final 15 minutes as a partner for Demba Ba and the attacking move paid off with Mata collecting Oscar's pass and driving in a shot that Jones turned in.
The match finished in controversial circumstances, with Rafael chopping down Luiz near the corner flag. A melee between both sets of players ensued and when referee Howard Webb settled things down, he showed the right back a red card. Luiz appeared to make the most of the challenge.