Nicolas Anelka and John Terry can argue about who is the hero of a tight and toughly-contested match at Stamford Bridge, the captain and the Golden Boot holder both in the frame for a second-half header from a free-kick that divided the teams.
Replays suggest it might be Anelka who had the final touch but if it is Terry's goal, it will be fitting a defender decided a hugely important game on an afternoon when the rearguards of both teams were on top for most of it.
Chances were sparse and neither side dominant. Man United had more shots that went close but wide while Chelsea worked the opposing goalkeeper to a greater degree.
The game turned fiery in the second-half with five bookings, the visitors Jonny Evans fortunate to escape a red card and the conceding of a penalty after a foot-high challenge on Drogba.
There were more surprises in the Man United team line up than the Chelsea one.
It was a defence that faced a Man United side without Berbatov, who had not recovered from the knock that kept him out of Champions League action midweek.
Rooney played on his own up front with Owen starting on the bench. Ferguson decided to counter Chelsea's strong midfield with an additional player in that area when his team were without the ball.
Before kick-off the players formed a guard of honour to welcome servicemen and Chelsea pensioners on the pitch ahead of a Remembrance Sunday silence, impeccably observed. The poppy collection around the stadium on the day raised £8,000 for the Royal British Legion.
The Blues were guilty of a sluggish start in this fixture last season but there was little sign of that initially today as Lampard and then Ashley Cole flew into tackles on Valencia as the visitors tried to attack down the right.
In Chelsea's first attack, two minutes in, Deco wasn't too far away from poking Anelka through, and then Ivanovic forced a save at the near post from Van der Sar.
Ten minutes in and Essien, on one of his train-like charges up field, was stopped in his tracks just over halfway and Man United countered, Rooney firing into the side-netting via a touch off Carvalho.
Chelsea's purposeful start had died down and the team found it hard to keep the ball. The consequence was Anelka and Drogba out of the game.
However on 17 minutes, a Ballack ball from deep did clear Brown and reach Drogba but the header at full-stretch lacked direction.
The game, by no means a classic up to now, began to pick up pace but both teams were finding the opposition defensive barriers hard to break through.
Anelka struck a low shot from distance but Van der Sar was secure and then Giggs, playing wide left in absence of Nani, attempted a speculative lob that cleared the bar. That was on the break. The visitors were looking their most dangerous as a counter-attacking team.
The shots were few and with the odd exception struck from outside the two penalty areas. On 31 minutes Anelka truly tested the Man U keeper with a left-foot bending shot from out wide that needed a diving stop.
On 39 minutes there was an accidental collision between John Terry, attacking a high ball in trademark style, and Ashley Cole, the captain the one left in pain. After a Drogba attack came to nothing, the ref stopped the game for treatment. It was not a head injury. Cue the game's first Fergie explosion on the touch line.
When the Man U boss had been calmed and Terry recovered, the match continued with a determined Chelsea break and Deco cross. Neither Lampard nor Drogba could make the most of it.
Neither could the visitors two minutes after half-time when Ivanovic got drawn too far into the centre and an unmarked Giggs chipped a dangerous-looking ball in. Then a Drogba 30-yarder after O'Shea had misjudged Cech's kick was high and wide.
Referee Martin Atkinson had been quick to blow up any sort of contact, especially front players on defenders, but it was the other way round when Ivanovic became the game's first booking. The right-back stretched and tapped the ball before following through on Giggs's knee, right in front of the protesting Man U bench.
Carvalho, Chelsea's outstanding performer, superbly blocked a Fletcher shot while at the other end, a rare Lampard effort was under hit.
The crowd had been singing for Joe Cole for some time before the player was introduced in a like-for-like switch for Deco. That was with 63 minutes gone. The Chelsea play had lacked cohesion. What would the introduction of the crowd favourite bring?
Before any impact came from Cole, Rooney went close twice, shooting just two yards wide after Valencia's return pass and then testing Cech at his top corner.
On 72 minutes came one of the game's big talking points. Another high ball had been launched in Drogba's direction and as he jumped with Evans, the Man United defender turned and raised his foot, catching the Chelsea man in the ribs, inside the area.
After Drogba had been treated, the ref quite incredibly booked him. The only defence could be his angle of view hadn't seen the boot high.
A minute later Fletcher chopped down Ashley Cole and no card was shown, to the crowd's ire, although the away team were angered by the award of the free-kick. Chelsea disquiet was soon forgotten. Lampard's free-kick was attacked by both Terry and Anelka, both got a touch as a header dropped into the bottom corner.
The two players both celebrated like it was their goal, each oblivious to the other's run, and common consensus on initial viewing was that it was Terry's to keep, although a TV replay suggests differently. The debate may continue.
Rooney's complaining over the free-kick was enough for a booking. With the ball, he had been his side's most effective player, frequently looking capable of causing problems.
There was another flash point with 10 minutes to go. First Carvalho catching Rooney in the centre circle and then Evans steaming in on the Chelsea man. The two defenders were booked.
Evans made another contribution in shooting wide for the visitors before both sides made changes. Kalou came on for Drogba who hadn't had one of his best games and Man U brought on Obertan and Owen and went 4-4-2.
The feisty second-half continued with a yellow card challenge by Valencia on Lampard.
Five minutes of what is now commonly known as 'Fergie time' was played and the Scot's side pressed hard but Chelsea, as for the previous 90 minutes, were resolute at the back.
It was a club record equalling 11th straight home win, and over 14 hours without a goal conceded at the Bridge.
Following on from our victory over Liverpool, the ability to beat our main challangers that went missing last season appears to be back. We go into the international break five points clear at the top.
Chelsea (4-diamond-2): Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Essien; Ballack, Lampard; Deco (J Cole 63); Anelka (Alex 90+3), Drogba (Kalou 82).
Scorer Anelka 76.
Booked Ivanovic 57, Drogba 74, Carvalho 81.
Man United (4-3-3): Van der Sar; O'Shea, Brown, Evans, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson (Owen 84); Valencia, Rooney, Giggs (c) (Obertan 84).
Booked Rooney 76, Evans 81, Valencia 87.