Scuffle mars draw

LONDON – A player scuffle and questions over the referee marred Chelsea’s 0-0 draw with Manchester United in the first leg of a League Cup semifinal at Stamford Bridge on .

Chelsea had the better chances throughout, mainly from Frank Lampard, while United’s best chance came on a Wayne Rooney header in the first half.

‘It’s 0-0, so if we win we go through and if we get a draw we go to extra time,’ Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. ‘We are confident of getting a result but we know what Manchester United is, a footballing power. It’ll be difficult for us, but also for them.’

The return leg is at Old Trafford on Jan. 25.

The scuffle broke out in the closing minutes when the ball went out of play in front of the substitutes’ benches.

Both Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and United’s Cristiano Ronaldo pushed each other to retrieve the ball and players from both sides and the bench entered the fracas. Both players received yellow cards.

‘It’s nothing, it’s football,’ Mourinho said of the scuffle. ‘It’s a yellow card and it’s finished.’

Mourinho was more concerned with referee Neale Barry, who he said had been influenced by Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson at halftime.

‘I see one referee in the first half and another in the second half,’ Mourinho said. ‘I’m suggesting that the referee didn’t walk alone to the dressing room.

‘I don’t think it’s a matter of integrity,’ he added. ‘I can understand that with a bit of pressure and a few clever words you can change a little bit the way you think.’

Ferguson had a different view.

‘The referee gave Chelsea an awful lot in the first half,’ he said.

The draw comes four days after United was held to a 0-0 draw by non-league Exeter in the FA Cup.

Only three starters from that match returned for the Chelsea game, while striker Louis Saha started for the first time since recovering from a November knee injury.

‘I thought it was a good performance. We battled hard and we kept Chelsea down to a couple of chances,’ United captain Phil Neville said. ‘Our form’s not been that bad, I’d say that (Exeter) was a blip.

‘A draw was probably a fair result.’

Ferguson hasn’t lost in 10 domestic semifinals since he took charge of the club in 1986. United has gone on to win five of six FA Cup finals and two of four League Cups. United also has a 55-year unbeaten record over Chelsea in cup competitions.

Chelsea controlled the early stages. Damien Duff sent a left-footed shot over the corner of the goal and Lampard headed another shot just wide.

Eidur Gudjohnsen had the ball in the net in the 28th minute, but was called offside.United’s best chances came from Rooney, returning from a three-match suspension, who forced Chelsea goalkeeper Claudio Cudicini into a diving one-handed save.

Rooney also sent another shot into the side netting while Saha had his pleas for a a penalty turned down after a tackle by Tiago.

Lampard had a shot cleared off the line by United defender Gabriel Heinze in the second half and sent a long-range shot just wide of goal. Howard also stopped a shot from substitute Drogba.

Chelsea has beaten United once this season, 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on opening day. But Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho started his rivalry with Ferguson last March when his former club Porto eliminated United in the second round of the European Champions League.

Liverpool beat Watford 1-0 at Anfield in the other semifinal first leg held Tuesday night. Its return leg is Jan. 26. The final is Feb. 27.

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