Juan Mata struck in the 87th minute as Chelsea boosted their top-four hopes with a 1-0 at Manchester United on Sunday.
The Spaniard struck following a game bereft of quality, while the hosts had Rafael sent off late on for a kick on David Luiz as the champions slumped to defeat.
United made five changes as Anders Lindegaard, Nemanja Vidic, Anderson, Tom Cleverley and Ryan Giggs replaced David de Gea, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Nani.
The away continued their rotation policy with Ashley Cole, Juan Mata, Demba Ba and Gary Cahill all coming in. Eden Hazard missed out with a groin strain.
It was Chelsea who made the brighter start to the game. A well-worked one-two between Mata and Victor Moses resulted in the Spaniard crossing towards the back post but he put it behind Ba who skewed his header.
The visitors could have twice taken the lead when first Oscar broke away from the right-hand side of his own half, he powered into the box but had his shot pushed onto the post be Lindegaard before Moses blasted over from the Brazilian's centre.
Quality moments were few and far between for either side. Van Persie and Ba shot off target as frustrations began to rumble down from the stands.
Cleverley had another chance from outside the box, as Giggs played a dangerous ball into the box that Petr Cech parried away. Driving onto the ball, the England international blazed it high into the stand.
Van Persie had United's best chance just before half-time, Giggs split the Chelsea defence with his through-ball down the left and the Dutchman tried to apply the finish with the outside of his boot, but it hit his shin and went wide of the near post.
The second half began in the same manner as the first ended with both sides struggling to carve out chances.
Chelsea came close when Cesar Azpilicueta chipped a pass to Mata in the box, he pulled it back for Frank Lampard but the midfielder hit his effort over.
Rooney entered the fray for United in the 69th minute and almost grabbed the opener soon after. Antonio Valencia's cross was met by the Englishman but he was off balance and the ball bounced out of play.
At the other end, Lampard was afforded space to cross and whipped a ball in that Mata could only scuff off target from six yards, before it was cleared for a corner.
But the Spaniard finally broke the deadlock with just three minutes to go. A Chelsea counter-attack saw Ramires burst through midfield before finding Oscar, he laid to Mata on the left-hand side of the box and the 25-year-old applied the finish into the far corner.
Moments later, Rafael received a straight red card for kicking Luiz. as the centre-back tried to run the ball out for a goal kick.
Chelsea safely saw out injury-time to secure three points and tighten their grip on a UEFA Champions League place, leaving them three points ahead of Tottenham in fifth ahead of the sides' meeting on Wednesday.
|4||P. Jones||81' 87'|
|20||R. van Persie|
|Coach: A. Ferguson|
for T. Cleverley 68'
for Anderson 69'
for A. Valencia 90'
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