Peerless Giggs summons the spirit of '99 as Fergie's men maintain treble bid
This time he marked his goal in silence. With a tumble, a roll and a gentle grin, not a word passed his lips.
Four days on from turning the east London air bluer than a Chelsea home shirt, Wayne Rooney stood in front of the Matthew Harding stand 25 minutes into this Champions League tie, his arms spread wide, and quietly acknowledged his moment.
Nobody could have objected to the way he did it. Except 35,000 Chelsea fans, who had just seen their season substantively holed below the water line.
But even then, only the most committed blue, those treating the goalscorer to a volley of abuse of a kind they must have learned from the television, would fail to admit that his goal was a thing of beauty, created and finished with real accomplishment.
A goal, moreover, that pushed Manchester United another step towards a target, which even their most committed follower has so far this season regarded as wholly impossible.
Whenever United play Chelsea, their fans like to remind their rivals of the disparity in the two club's history. This time, the focus of their attention was a rainy night in Moscow three seasons ago. The visiting Mancunians had brought a bedsheet, which they hung from the top tier of the Shed End, decorated with the words 'Viva John Terry'.
But it was the banner alongside that which gave greater gloss on events at the Bridge.
It was a celebration of the '99 Treble, the milestone this side seeks to emulate. And it was the man who spanned both generations to whom they were most indebted for this result.
Ryan Giggs, playing in central midfield, was simply peerless. His stamina, his pace, his unyielding commitment to the cause would be exemplary in a 27-year-old. In a man 10 years older, they deserve to be the subject of scientific investigation.
Giggs' intelligence, his range of passing, his control were all exemplified in the build up to Rooney's goal.
Michael Carrick, playing his best game for United this season, slung a diagonal ball from just inside the Chelsea half across the pitch to where Giggs was lurking on the edge of the penalty area.
As the ball came down out of the west London sky, the Welshman applied the most subtle of touches, taking it past Jose Boswinga with a sly caress of his left foot.
He then pulled it back to Rooney who stroked the ball past Petr Cech with an ease approaching contempt.
If United are to emulate their distinguished predecessors of '99, then over the next six weeks they will require individuals to deliver remarkable performances as remarkable as those of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Peter Schmeichel 12 years back.
A year ago, at this exact stage of the competition, Rooney had suffered the injury that had compromised his progress for a calendar year.
Over the past couple of weeks the applied muscularity that first marked him out as a presence in the game has returned.
After being agnostic about him following his contract shenanigans last autumn, now United's followers are solidly behind him, thrilling to his every touch.
Though his every contribution -- from scoring to being stamped on first by Michael Essien then by Ramieris -- elicited a torrent of abuse from the home stands, not everything he was obliged to do oozed threat.
Stationed behind Javier Hernandez, Rooney did his share of bustle and hustle, fighting for possession, making his presence felt, falling back to make up numbers as Chelsea pressed forward ever more desperately in search of an equaliser.
As the game reached its critical juncture, as Alex Ferguson's new tactic of replacing injured full-backs with wingmen continued as Antonio Valencia stood in for the hobbling Rafael, Rooney never gave an inch.
After this, no wonder Ferguson announced this week that he doesn't want to retire.
To be in charge of this combination, of Rooney, Giggs, Nemanja Vidic, arriving at their peak precisely at the right time, is enough to keep the slippers in the cupboard indefinitely. (© Daily Telegraph, London)