Frank Lampard fired in a 78th-minute penalty to put the Blues ahead after David Luiz’s fine volley had cancelled out Wayne Rooney’s first-half opener before Nemanja VidiÃ„â€¡ was sent off late on.
The result keeps keeps the Blues’ slim title hopes alive and hoists Carlo AncelottiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s men into fourth place, 12 points behind the leaders with a game in hand.
Chelsea signalled their intent to restore pride in their disappointing domestic season from the outset.
Within three minutes Lampard thought he had put the home side in front only for referee Martin Atkinson to award United a free-kick after Luiz was adjudged to have fouled VidiÃ„â€¡ in the box.
Moments later Ramires released Nicolas Anelka down the right wing before the France forwardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s low cross found Florent Malouda, who spurned the chance to put the champions ahead when he thumped his effort straight at Edwin van der Sar.
After having weathered the early storm FergusonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s men soon found their feet. Wayne Rooney was unable to latch on to Patrice EvraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s teasing low pass across the face of goal from the left after the France defender had played a neat exchange with Javier HernÃƒÂ¡ndez on the edge of the Chelsea box.
And with the United charge gathering steady momentum, Rooney struck to break the deadlock after 29 minutes with a rasping 25-yard drive into the bottom corner of Petr CechÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s goal.
ChelseaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best chance to draw level before the break fell to Branislav IvanoviÃ„â€¡ when Van der Sar parried LampardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s free-kick into the Serbian defenderÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s path.
But the Dutch goalkeeperÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s imposing presence proved enough to prevent Carlo AncelottiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s men from snatching an equaliser.
After a quiet opening to the second half it was Chelsea who seized the initiative seven minutes in.
On a night when Fernando Torres once again struggled in his quest to rediscover his goalscoring form it was the BluesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ other January acquisition who found the net.
Luiz, the 23-year-old Brazilian defender signed from Benfica for Ã¢â€šÂ¬25m, showcased his attacking prowess when he expertly volleyed home IvanoviÃ„â€¡Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s flick to haul his side back into the game.
The Blues were revived by the leveller and the match swung fully in their favour after 77 minutes when Chris Smalling was adjudged to have brought down substitute Yuri Zhirkov as the Russia international burst into the area.
Lampard smashed the resulting spot-kick into the roof of the net to fire the champions into the lead.
And a bad night was made worse for United boss Ferguson when VidiÃ„â€¡ was dismissed in the dying moments after being shown a second yellow for pulling back Ramires on the edge of the box, ruling him out of SundayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s trip to Anfield.
Chelsea boss Ancelotti sung his side’s praises after the win. “It was a good performance and we are still alive,” he said. “We played well, it was a very difficult game and we found a fantastic opponent but the team played really well to still go forward when we are losing 1-0.
“We kept going with strength, intensity and power in our performance. It was really good but if you don’t play well, you cannot beat Man United.”
Meanwhile, Ferguson slammed the referee over Chelsea’s spot-kick. “The penalty kick was so soft,” said Ferguson. “But we played very well. It was a great performance by us. We didn’t deserve that.
“That’s three years in a row (at Stamford Bridge) referees’ decisions have changed the game.”
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