Getty Images

LONDON -- They're supposed to save the madness for the final whistle at Stamford Bridge. Instead, Chelsea and Manchester United delivered surely the Citizen Kane of bad football. The best worst game the Premier League has ever seen, a masterclass in nonsense thrown away by the hosts in the first 100 minutes, won in the last two.

Cole Palmer, the ice man who seemed to have been caught up in the hot-headedness of this ludicrous game, somehow ended up with the match ball he had spent so much of the preceding half an hour forlornly booting into United defenders. In two minutes, Erik ten Hag's hopes of the Champions League qualification that might keep his job went up in smoke, Diogo Dalot crashing into Noni Madueke to hand Palmer a penalty before the entire United rearguard switched off for a corner drilled in by the coldest man on the Fulham Road.

It seems appropriate that this result should send Chelsea careening up the table from 11th to 10th, the sheer stupidity of the occasion only heightened as these fallen giants battle for scraps. You knew beforehand this was going to be daft, that is the stock trade of both the Blues and United this season. Still, nothing could quite have prepared you for this.

Chelsea are not a team to make life easy for themselves but from the outset, their visitors seemed hellbent on being considerate guests. It might have been apparent as early as the opening week that Casemiro stitching together an entire midfield on an island 20 yards wide and long was a tactical impossibility but ten Hag insisted on trying it again, urging his players further and further up despite the total absence of recovery pace in their backline. Whenever they won the ball back, Chelsea found themselves with a smorgasbord of options for advancing it up the field.

United were loose in their tackles, pedestrian in chasing back. When Malo Gusto stole possession in midfield, he could drive down the flank unobstructed, his pass deflected in the direction of Conor Gallagher, the one man who had thought to explore options on the edge of the box as the trailing defense kept sprinting towards their goal line. Andre Onana might have been unsighted by some of the bodies between him and the ball but this is not the first time this season he has been beaten down low to his left.

Conceding early further exposed United's 'midfield'. Every passing move that broke down was a five-alarm fire for the visitors, their forward line hurtling back in sheer desperation. In such circumstances, clumsiness is inevitable and so Antony charged into Marc Cucurella inside his own penalty area. Palmer duly converted from the spot, half his 14 Premier League goals now coming from 12 yards out. 

That should have been that, even for a team that had conceded two in each of their last five games. United were bereft, heads drooped, Ten Hag picking fights with the fourth official. All Chelsea had to do was take the air out of the game, hold possession for a while, knock the ball sideways if you have to. No, not like that. Moises Caicedo rolling the ball loosely across his own third to Alejandro Garnacho, bursting away to slot past Djordje Petrovic.

Don't miss CBS Sports Golazo Network's Morning Footy, now in podcast form! Our crew brings you all the news, views, highlights and laughs you need to follow the Beautiful Game in every corner of the globe, every Monday-Friday all year long.

Had United sussed something out about their opponent? Not particularly, nor did they make any obvious adjustments to pose a greater threat to Chelsea. It's just that sometimes when you rely on the individual talents of very expensive players they can deliver something remarkable. Even Antony.

For once, his insistence on cutting onto his left foot proved to be the right course of action as he opened his body up to float the ball across field to Dalot. Chelsea had six back in their penalty area to deal with the cross, none seemed to notice Rasmus Hojlund and Bruno Fernandes at the back post, the latter primed to flick home an equalizer.

Still, this game had further bizarre subplots to integrate. Raphael Varane was visibly struggling for much of the first half, his replacement at the interval, Jonny Evans, lasted 21 minutes. The replacement to the replacement, Willy Kambwala, might have been the best defender on the pitch. Admittedly, the bar was pretty low on that one.

To label the second half a basketball game is to insult even the Atlanta Hawks. Forwards flew up the court with abandon, no set moves to get them into space, just vibes. When Antony's wicked trivela found Garnacho to flick home at the back post, that was the moment I wondered if I had been drinking earlier. Before too long the question was "Wait, what exactly have I been drinking"?

Everywhere you looked storylines were emerging. Scott McTominay entered the most Scott McTominay of games. Mason Mount's return to Stamford Bridge led to cries of Judas from the home support that once adored him and seemed intent on ignoring the fact that his sale -- booked just in time for the 2022-23 accounts -- might have been the difference between a PSR passing grade and a points deduction that Mauricio Pochettino's side can ill afford as they chase any form of European football.

As all these narrative arcs began to coalesce time was on Chelsea's side. A quarter of the game attacking an opponent who had offered no evidence that they could or would defend. Dropping into a deep block suited the visitors rather more than Ten Hag's insistence they chase the Blues high and low but still there were opportunities for Chelsea if they did not so resolutely insist on smacking the ball at a pile of United bodies every time the crowd cried "shoot."

All they had to do was get into the box and United would panic. It only took them to the 98th minute to realize that, Madueke flying forward until he was sent tumbling by Dalot, who may have slipped on the sodden turf. By this stage, you were trying to plot out the most ludicrous denouement. A first penalty miss for Palmer seemed appropriate but the Barclays always knows better. Spot kick dispatched and Dalot was determined to make amends.

Onwards he flew to the Chelsea box. Rather than get a shot away, he handed out a turnover. Surely this was Raheem Sterling's moment to silence those doubters? Again, the relentless narrative force of the Premier League had a better idea. Palmer was the only man alive to the opportunities at a corner taken short by Enzo Fernandez. Half the United team pointed out the danger, only one felt compelled to put themselves between it and the goal. Palmer struck the ball with purpose, enough that McTominay felt compelled to throw himself in front of it. That is what players like McTominay do, never mind that all he did was deflect a shot that even Onana was sure to hold.

A suitably ludicrous ending to the sort of game that will go down as the great disasterclass of the season. No team should ever look to repeat what Chelsea and Manchester United just served up. Still, you hope and pray they do.