Masterful United boost treble bid
Manchester Utd 2
(United win 3-1 on agg)
Stylish Giggs helps send Abramovich home early
Manchester United's glorious obsession with the Champions League proved far stronger than Chelsea's last night. The Treble remains on for Alex Ferguson. Trouble is all that lies in store for Carlo Ancelotti.
Worryingly for the Chelsea coach, Roman Abramovich left before the final whistle as the Stretford End caustically serenaded Ancelotti with a chant of "you're getting sacked in the morning". Probably the summer.
The Italian's tactics backfired, confirmed when Fernando Torres was humiliatingly withdrawn at the break, but really it was the hunger of the United players that counted most. Ryan Giggs was magnificent, Wayne Rooney was outstanding. Both combined to help Javier Hernandez score in the first half; although Torres' replacement, Didier Drogba, equalised on the night, Ji-sung Park ensured a 3-1 aggregate win.
Ancelotti had sprung a surprise, eschewing 4-3-3 and 4-4-2, starting Chelsea in a 4-3-2-1 formation. Torres was at the tip of the Christmas tree, craving gifts from the supporting cast of Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard, who tucked in behind him.
Lampard and the deeper-lying Florent Malouda did interchange but this pushed-on role was relatively new territory for the Englishman. The system brought hope only once for the visitors in the first period.
Anelka, peeling right, laid the ball back to the excellent Branislav Ivanovic, whose cross was met with a flicked header by Torres. The Spaniard, craving a first goal in his 11 appearances for his new employers, saw his effort fly just wide. A penny for the thoughts of Drogba, kept in reserve for 45 minutes.
His arrival was no great surprise. Torres struggled, the ball bouncing embarrassingly up at one point and then the striker attempting a give and go with Lampard. Unfortunately for Chelsea, Torres forgot to go.
The contrast with the bright, breezy movement of Rooney was clear. He was excellent, ghosting wide, racing into the box and also dropping deep, giving extra protection to midfield in Ferguson's 4-4-1-1 system.
If Chelsea enjoyed greater possession before the break, United threatened on the counter, building towards that Hernandez goal. There was a confidence to United, a belief in their system and in each other. The work-rate was typically first rate. Ji-sung Park dribbled upfield, back-heeling the ball into the danger zone, before Ivanovic cleared up. United were hunting that goal to add to Rooney's first-leg effort.
Back came Chelsea, Ramires charging through, then Anelka darting forward until superbly stopped by Rio Ferdinand. The England centre-half was trying to run off a slight knock, causing brief concern among United's medical staff.
The game swayed from end to end, Hernandez soon breaking into Chelsea's box until Ramires intervened. Back it flowed down the other end, Malouda gliding towards the Stretford End. He kept ahead of the chasing Park, cut inside Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic before laying the ball off to Lampard.
It was a glorious chance, one that the Englishman would usually relish, yet his shot was too soft, too ill-directed. Edwin van der Sar collected with ease.
The atmosphere was terrific, the United fans raising the roof when Hernandez met Rooney's cross, beating Petr Cech with a diving header. United celebrations were swiftly terminated as everybody noticed the raised flag of an eagle-eyed Portuguese assistant referee. Hernandez was fractionally offside.
Before Hernandez struck, United still had to negotiate a brief scare. When Anelka chased a ball down the right, Van der Sar charged out but then hesitated. The Dutchman then decided to go for it, racing on and dispossessing Anelka with two expert tackles.
The game became slightly scrappy, bookings arriving for Ramires, Malouda and John Terry. He looked bemused at the decision, awarded for a challenge on Hernandez when he appeared focused solely on the dropping ball. Terry's mood darkened further with the taunting of the home fans for his spot-kick miss in Moscow. A banner was brandished declaring him 'Mr Penalty'.
It then got worse for Terry and his team just before the interval. When Malouda headed a free-kick out, Michael Carrick, again an efficient influence, quickly seized on the loose ball and laid it off to Rooney. His vision and passing dexterity was marvellous, Rooney picking out Giggs on the right. Once again, echoing events at the Bridge, Giggs' control was exceptional before passing back to Irish international John O'Shea.
The Waterford man turned and laced a superb return pass between Malouda and Anelka, statues in the face of the red hurricane. Giggs calmly placed the ball towards the far post where Hernandez, timing his run superbly, drove the ball into the roof of the net. "We knew they had to score,'' said Giggs, "but we wanted to score to put pressure on them.''
Torres' failure to emerge for the second period delighted the United fans.
Yet Drogba gave Chelsea more of a focus, the Ivorian forcing Van der Sar to take emergency action to keep out a ferocious free-kick. Chelsea's evening slid further into meltdown when Ramires received his second caution, this time for fouling Nani. But then Drogba beat the offside trap to drive the ball past Van der Sar. Chelsea fans up in the gods celebrated wildly.
Not for long. Within 60 seconds, Park made it 3-1 on aggregate, guiding United into the semi-finals. (© Daily Telegraph, London)