By Kieran Lovelock (From Stamford Bridge)
Manchester United took a huge step forward towards the final four of the Champions League with a highly impressive 1-0 win away at Chelsea in the first leg of the quarter final.
United were superb throughout exceeding Chelsea in all areas of the pitch even though the game started with plenty of effort but little quality from both sides. However it soon became apparent who would be able to gain their composure first as Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba yet again failed to connect up front for Chelsea against a stoic United backline.
Despite this it was the home side that threatened first as Drogba forced a good save from Van Der Sar at his near post. After this however United took control and in the 24th minute they deservedly took the lead through a breathtaking cross-field move.
Michael Carrick gained possession on the edge of the center circle before playing a mesmerizing pass to Giggs taking Jose Bosingwa completely out of the game. Giggs’ touch was perfect and as the Chelsea center backs moved towards him the Welshman simply slipped it to Rooney who had plenty of time to side foot the ball into the bottom corner from ten yards and leave Stamford Bridge silent.
After the week he had there was a sense of inevitability about Wayne Rooney scoring and on the basis of this finish it appears that he is somewhat nearing his best form just when United need it most.
Chelsea did rally after the goal and had a Frank Lampard shot cleared off the line by Patrice Evra on the stroke of halftime. Replays showed that it was well in front of the line and Chelsea had some chasing to do in the second half.
But the second half started much the same as the first half ended with Chelsea consistently losing the ball in midfield and until Ancelotti switched to a 4-3-3, in turn removing the anonymous Zhirkov and the ineffective Drogba, United were beginning to monopolize possession with consummate ease at times even playing keep ball in the oppositions penalty area.
Torres forced a good save from Van Der Sar late on after latching on to a Ramires cross but it was ultimately another hugely frustrating night for him as he has now gone ten hours without scoring a goal.
The closing minutes brought some half hearted penalty appeals as Torres was booked for diving and Ramires went down under a heavy challenge from Ferdinand, but this was as close as Chelsea could get to equalizing and now the Blues have a huge challenge ahead of them to progress to the semi finals and rescue an already wretched season.
For Sir Alex Ferguson however it was a different story as he reveled in a strategic victory. “I wasn’t surprised at the win as I knew that if we played well our tactics would work, the players have been focused”, he said afterwards.
Afterwards Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelloti was visibly irritated but refused to criticize his team insisting that they played well. “Tonight our performance was good and we know that we score at any moment at Old Trafford just like Manchester United did tonight.”
This they certainly need to do and for 50 million pounds surely that is the least you can expect.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Cech, Bosingwa (Mikel 78), Terry, Ivanovic, Cole; Ramires, Essien, Lampard, Zhirkov (Malouda 70); Drogba (Anelka 70), Torres.
Subs not used: Kalou, Turnbull, Benayoun, Ferreira
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Van Der Sar; Rafael (Nani 51), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Giggs, Carrick, Park (Smalling 90+4); Rooney; Hernandez (Berbatov 78)
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Scholes, Evans, Gibson
Man of the Match: Michael Carrick
Referee: Alberto Mallenco (Spain)