Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rooney Propels United To Brink Of Semis

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney (left) puts his side ahead at ChelseaOne day a villain, the next a hero, such is the nature of Wayne Rooney's footballing career. Lambasted all week for his profanity strewn rant at an innocent camera man, Rooney will no doubt be lauded heavily by the back pages come tomorrow morning.

Chelsea started the much better of the two sides, moving the ball well through midfield, and looking dangerous on the wings. Even fifty million pound flop Fernando Torres was looking  lively, with the Spaniard putting some nice touches on the ball in the early stages.

However, things were soon to change for Chelsea, and as the half wore on United began to assert their dominance. Antonio Valencia once again looked superb on the right side, and Ji-Sung Park was doing well to negate Jose Bosingwa's attacking threat on the left.

On twenty-six minutes, United finally found the goal that their dominance deserved. A sweetly his cross field pass from Michael Carrick was taken in stride by Ryan Giggs, with the Welsh midfielder blasting past Bosingwa, before finding Rooney with a cut back, that was calmly passed into the corner. United had scored a precious away goal, and the Red Devils looked set to push on in the game.

The remainder of the first half passed uneventfully up until the first minute of stoppage time, when a  Fernando Torres flick hit the outside of the post, before Lampard's sliced attempt on the rebound was cleared off the line by Patrice Evra. United had survived a huge scare, and many a fan of the Premier League table toppers were glad to hear the half time whistle sound.

Unsurprisingly, it was Chelsea who made all the early running at the start of the second period, with the Blues clearly desperate to find a leveller. However, the Chelsea attack never looked cohesive, with Torres and Drogba once again failing to strike up any kind of understanding. On the other hand, Chicharito and Rooney looked fabulous upfront, with the pair displaying the kind of combination skills that have been so lacking from Chelsea's front men of late.

Chelsea's chances of finding an equalizer were given a huge boost when, on fifty one minutes, Rafael was forced to be substituted, Nani coming on his place, and winger Antonio Valencia moving to right back. At the weekend, veteran Ryan Giggs was forced to play left back for the entirety of the second half, and it looked like a similar situation here, with the hardly defensive minded Valencia forced to help out the back four.

With the clock ticking, and still no closer to a goal, Carlo Ancelotti elected to make a change upfront, swapping Drogba for Anelka, in a bid to change the dynamics of the game. The look of bemusement on Drogba's face as he trudged off was reflected in the mind's of most of the Stamford Bridge support, Drogba had been Chelsea's most effective player up until the time of the change, and the decision to keep Torres on instead of the Ivorian seemed quite bizarre.

Anelka and Torres were unable to produce anything better than the Drogba-Torres partnership had, and with time dwindling out, an equalizer was looking more and more unlikely.

With game petering out, United and Chelsea fans alike could have been forgiven for expecting a tame last two minutes, but a Manchester United match at Stamford Bridge is never complete without a sprinkling of controversy, and that extra bit of seasoning was provided, two minutes into stoppage time. Running through on goal, Ramires looked to have been bundled to the ground inside the penalty area by the defending Patrice Evra. The referee waved play on, despite enormous appeals from Chelsea fans and players and replays later showed that a spot kick should have been awarded. No doubt, Ancelotti will have plenty to say about that decision in the post match press conference.

In truth though, United were more than worthy of their win, comfortable throughout, the Red Devils looked more organized at the back, and more effective upfront than their London rivals. With a one-nil lead in tow, Sir Alex will expect his men to see out the second leg at Old Trafford, and looking at United's home record this year, it's difficult to imagine anything other than United progression.

Chelsea will complain long and hard about that penalty decision, especially if United finish the job next Tuesday, but it is another man dressed in black that should assume the blame for Chelsea's latest disappointment. Bizarre was the word I used earlier to describe Carlo Ancelotti's ridiculous substitution, and at the second time of asking I struggle to find a description more appropriate. Drogba's physical strength clearly troubled the United central defense, while strike partner Torres continued to flatter to deceive. Invisible for most of the second half, Torres was surely the man who should have been removed, with Drogba reacquainting himself with former strike partner Nicolas Anelka. Fifty million pounds is a lot of money to shell out on one player, and if Torres' string of anemic performances continues to grow, then that fifty million will begin to seem an awful waste.

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