United were three up at half-time with goals from Chris Smalling, Nani and Wayne Rooney as Chelsea contributed to their own downfall courtesy of poor defending and a dismal failure to take the chances that came their way.
Fernando Torres, lively throughout, scored his first goal of the season with a fine finish just after half-time, but that goal will be overlooked after his astonishing late miss at the Stretford End when he shot wide of an open goal after rounding United goalkeeper David de Gea.
In a game that had everything, Wayne Rooney contributed a “Moscow Moment a la John Terry” when he slipped taking a second half penalty that would have ended any hope that Chelsea would have had of getting back into the match.
United have been devastating when offered opportunities this season went ahead inside 10 minutes. Poor Chelsea marking from Ashley Young’s free-kick left Smalling unattended to head powerfully past Petr Cech.
Chelsea were not discouraged by the early goal and should have gotten back on level terms in the 25th minute when Mata played in Torres, who unselfishly squared the ball for Ramires in front of an open goal, but his weak finish allowed De Gea to make a scrambling save.
United made Chelsea pay for Ramires’ miss when Nani skipped past Juan Mata on the edge of the Chelsea goal and unleashed a brilliant shot into the top corner of the net,
Rooney made it 3-0 right before half-time when John Terry’s clearance struck Nani and rolled invitingly into Rooney’s path for the simplest of finishes
Villas-Boas took action at the interval, replacing Lampard with Nicolas Anelka and the move paid off within 30 seconds. Anelka played in Torres for the sort of finish that was once a trademark finish from Torres.
United should have went 4-1 up when Bosingwa tripped Nani in the box, but Rooney was unable to convert after slipping in his run-up and ballooning it over.
AVB replaced Sturridge with Romelu Lukaku, who after De Gea had saved from Torres, the young striker volleyed the rebound over from 10 yards.
Then with less than 10 minutes to go, Torres had a great chance to set up a dramatic 10 minutes when he raced onto Ramires’ through ball, rounded De Gea and then somehow fired wide of a completely empty net. It was an incredible miss.
In injury time substitute Dimitar Berbatov had a great chance cleared off the line by Cole in what was the final incident in a terrific game.