The Mexican netted the winner with 15 minutes remaining, as 9-man Chelsea saw their unbeaten record in the Premier League come to an end.
Having flirted with a diamond formation in the last few weeks, United were back to a more familiar 4-4-2 at Stamford Bridge, with an unchanged back four in front of De Gea and a midfield including Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley and Ashley Young – playing his first game in two months – with RVP and Rooney up-front.
Much like they had done at Newcastle, United started the game at blistering pace and were ahead within three minutes from kick off, as Robin Van Persie’s shot ricocheted off David Luiz and into the back of the net after having hit the post, as the Dutchman benefited from some great counter-attacking football that saw Young and Rooney expose the Blues’ back four.
Ferguson had anticipated that Chelsea would miss John Terry and United proved their manager right ten minutes later, as they cut the home side’s back four to shreds again.
RVP had been Chelsea’s chief tormentor at Stamford Bridge last season and the home fans must have been sick of his sight as he slammed Valencia’s cross home, after the Ecuadorian had again gosthed past Ashley Cole.
Roberto di Matteo had never endured back-to-back defeats since he took over from Andre Villas-Boas last season, and his players quickly rallied to preserve the record intact.
With Chelsea coming at United from all angles, Rio Ferdinand – constantly booed by the home fans as a reminder of his decision to stand by his brother throughout the Terry saga. How crass of him! – and Jonny Evans were kept busy by Chelsea’s wonderful trio of Mata, Hazard and Oscar.
De Gea, whose superb save off Juan Mata’s free-kick secured a 3-3 draw in the corresponding fixture last season, repelled David Luiz’s free-kick before being saved by the post as Jonny Evans deflected Mikel’s cross for a corner.
United’s fluency going forward vanished as Chelsea piled up the pressure, with De Gea again brilliant to keep the hosts at bay as he saved headers from Cahill and then, with an amazing leap, Torres.
There was little the young Spaniard could do, though, as Mata’s splendid free-kick found its way past the wall and into the back of the net just before half-time, after Rooney had needlessly given away a free-kick on the edge of the box.
Mata could have restored parity less than a minute later but his countryman De Gea was again superb as he saved the former Valencia’s man flick on.
Chelsea were level soon after the break as Ramires headed a brilliant cross by Oscar past De Gea. With eight minutes played in the second half the writing looked to be on the wall for United, and De Gea was again called into action as he saved Hazard’s effort at the near post.
With their backs up against a blue wall, United were desperate for a slice of luck, which duly came their way after 62 minutes, when Ivanovic brought down Ashley Young after a brilliant pass from RVP had played the United winger clean through on goal.
Mark Clattenburg did not hesitate to give the Serbian his marching orders, as Ivanovic became the first Chelsea player to be sent off in Clattenburg’s career.
In fairness, there seemed to be contact between the Spaniard and Jonny Evans, but the former Liverpool man went down too easily – certainly so in the ref’s view.
Giggs replaced Rooney with 16 minutes left, after Hernandez had been brought on for Cleverley, who had looked out of depth at times, as United pushed forward.
With 15 minutes left United were to enjoy another considerable slice of luck as Hernandez tapped in Rafael’s shot from an offside position that was unspotted by Clattenburg and his assistant.
Fans in the United end found their voices yet again and could finally celebrate a league win at Stamford Bridge for the first time in 10 years.
More crucially, United have now closed the gap from Chelsea to a single point, having already successfully negotiated two difficult trips this season.