Rooney lets feet do talking as United seize lead
Man Utd 1
Champions League QF 1st leg
Carlo Ancelotti had talked about it being Chelsea's destiny to win the Champions League this season but there was only one man shaping fate last night -- Wayne Rooney.
He has raged against fortune in recent days -- for a year, to be honest -- but last night he was here, there, everywhere; and for the right reasons. This wasn't about foul language this was about sweet football. This was about the player everyone wants Rooney to be.
Alex Ferguson wanted an away goal and Rooney provided it to give United a grip on a place in the last four while loosening Ancelotti's hold on his own position. This competition means everything for him and for his Chelsea future. Destiny calls.
He cannot see his team drop out impotently and will have to provide a fierce challenge at Old Trafford next week. Is it beyond this team? Quite possibly, and if that is Roman Abramovich's conclusion then the manager will go.
Chelsea wanted to expunge the memories of Moscow three years ago but they were simply given a reminder that, in the intervening years, the power of their big players has waned, not increased. United were fortunate though that Patrice Evra did not concede a 92nd-minute penalty for hacking down Ramires.
The drama was raw and immediate with Rooney's first involvement sending him to the turf in pain as Michael Essien's high intervention caught him on the left boot. The Spanish referee waved play on. Soon after, Didier Drogba went to ground claiming he had been elbowed by Rio Ferdinand, who had brushed his arm against the Chelsea striker's face.
There was certainly an edge. John Terry and Rooney were inevitably goaded and the pace was unrelenting, defenders clearing hurriedly, passes over-hit, strikers snatching at chances -- as Fernando Torres did inside the United area after Patrice Evra's loose pass was intercepted.
Earlier, Ferdinand had scooped clear when Frank Lampard attempted to head in Jose Bosingwa's cross.
At one point, the pace dropped to 99mph -- but only briefly. It was frantic and full of spills and the tie needed a goal to give some definition.
Rooney soon provided it, emphatically, opening his body to side-foot right-footed in off the post to finish a wonderful sweeping move that had been started by Rafael.
The Brazilian full-back scampered into the Chelsea half, allowed Antonio Valencia to take possession and roll the ball back to Michael Carrick, who swept a cross-field pass to Ryan Giggs. The key to the goal was Giggs' superb first touch to take him away from Bosingwa and cut the ball back to Rooney.
Having dispatched his shot, the striker studiously ignored the cameras, but pointed one finger in the air in celebration and threw himself to the turf in delight.
He was soon touching the ground again -- another late tackle, this time from Ramires. Ferguson was incensed at the treatment of Rooney.
The goal was a hammer blow to the home side. Before it they had created the best opportunity when Ramires neatly teed up Drogba, whose powerful rising drive was pushed over by Edwin Van der Sar.
They needed a response and almost secured it when Yuri Zhirkov worked his way down the left and fed Torres.
The striker shaped to volley across goal but, after chesting the ball down, he sliced it and then Rafael was forced to turn Bosingwa's dangerous low cross away. Torres provoked United's anger by forcing his way into the area down the right and then tumbling theatrically under a challenge from Nemanja Vidic.
It was the end of Chelsea's attacking play for a while as a rapid counter-attack by United led to a period of dominance. Valencia picked out Rooney who eventually crossed for Javier Hernandez, who simply just couldn't stretch his neck muscles enough to flick the ball into the net.
However Chelsea, time and again, failed to clear and United pushed them back with Ancelotti increasingly exasperated. Eventually they did break out, just on the interval, with Drogba tricking his way past Rafael and crossing for Torres who failed to make contact but distracted Van der Sar enough for the goalkeeper to allow the ball to strike the far post and bounce back out. It fell to Lampard.
Surely he would score? But the midfielder, on his 500th appearance for the club, half-hit his half-volley. Even so, it would have been a goal had Evra not been there to turn it away.
Drogba's overhead kick at the start of the second half was a warning which United heeded. They began closing down quicker, moving up the pitch to stem the tide. Essien volleyed wide but the tempo was too slow until Torres arced his header back across goal, only for Van der Sar to stretch and claw clear superbly.
Soon after, he expertly held onto Lampard's deflected free-kick before Branislav Ivanovic sent in a weak shot after a barrelling run.
They couldn't break through and United didn't just have the goal -- they had the clean sheet and they had the victory. (© Daily Telegraph, London)