Champions League - Rooney gives United lead
Wed, 06 Apr 21:37:00 2011
It was the perfect way to respond to an FA charge following Rooney’s controversial four-letter tirade at a television camera during his match-winning performance against West Ham at the weekend.
Chelsea had their chances - Fernando Torres made it 10 games without a goal since joining from Liverpool but he hit the post and had a towering header kept out in style by Edwin van der Sar - but they were unable to break down a stubborn United, who at times looked irresistible on the counter attack.
There was also late drama as Chelsea were denied a cast-iron penalty when Ramires was brought down by last-man Patrice Evra, the Spanish referee signalling that the Frenchman took the ball, while Torres was correctly booked right at the death after a dive in the area.
The result leaves Chelsea on the brink of yet another Champions League exit - the only major trophy they have failed to win with Roman Abramovich as chairman - although a stirring second-half performance should give them confidence ahead of the April 12 second leg at Old Trafford.
The first half ebbed and flowed and United, on the balance of play, were deserved leaders going into the break.
But Chelsea had their chances, opening with a superb move that saw Rio Ferdinand - returning after two months out - deny Torres with a superb interception, while Van der Sar was at his acrobatic best to tip Didier Drogba’s crashing drive over.
United quickly regained their composure and took the lead on 24 minutes, before dominating the rest of the first half until a thrilling finale.
Carrick’s crossfield pass to Giggs seemed ambitious at best but the veteran winger exploited Jose Bosingwa’s hesitance with a wonderful first touch, taking him outside the Portuguese full-back before he drilled in an inch-perfect cut-back that Rooney met with a placed drive in off the post.
United were purring and they regularly cut Chelsea apart with incisive passing and some livewire combinations between Rooney and Javier Hernandez, the latter heading the former’s cross just wide as the hosts seemed unable to clear their lines at times.
The last 90 seconds or so saw Chelsea wake up as United survived a real scare as Torres came agonisingly close to his first goal in a Chelsea shirt when he flicked Drogba’s left-wing cross past Van der Sar: it hit the inside of the post and bounced clear, with Frank Lampard’s finish on the rebound blocked off the line by Evra.
Seconds later Lampard, on his 500th appearance for the Blues, had another effort blocked and United seemed tangibly relieved when referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco blew for half-time.
The second half saw Chelsea move up a gear and, given the pressure they applied, an equaliser would have been deserved.
Ramires fluffed his lines when handed a free header by Drogba’s excellent cross, with the Ivorian unlucky to see a superbly improvised chest and bicycle kick combination spin wide.
United were dangerous on the break though, with Cech showing great agility to palm Nani’s cross away from Hernandez with the Mexican poised to make it 2-0, but that was an inevitable risk of piling men forward, which Chelsea were doing at will.
Essien drilled a half-volley just wide, Torres was denied a finish by smart positioning from Ferdinand and - with 19 minutes left - the soon-to-retire Van der Sar hinted that United may have a job to replace him with a wonderful flying stop when Torres speared a goal-bound header towards the top right.
Then came the drama. Ramires latched on to a Lampard ball and, with United’s centre-halves stranded, Evra was the only defender with the pace to match the Brazilian: his last-ditch tackle was desperate though, failing to take the ball and leaving the midfielder in a heap.
But Mallenco was also stranded and he could not be sure, waving away Chelsea’s appeals and sparing United a late leveller and what would have been a red card for the Frenchman.
The Spaniard otherwise had a good game, letting the game flow for the most part, and he got his final decision absolutely spot on when he booked Torres for a clear dive as Antonio Valencia shadowed him into the box.
That was the last act of a thrilling encounter, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s costly words after these two teams last met ancient history given their luck against the Blues and fellow Londoners West Ham.
itw Patrice Evra