A goal from Wayne Rooney midway through the first half was enough to give Manchester united a 1–0 triumph over Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at Stamford Bridge.
After an indifferent first half of the season, Rooney has gradually returned to something approaching his old self over time and has now struck a rich vein of form when it matters. The win gave United revenge for their bitter 2–1 setback in the league the other week, but more important in the context of this tie is that they have kept a clean sheet and scored an away goal.
The visitors were boosted by the surprise inclusion of Rio Ferdinand in the center of defense. He can hardly have been match fit, but his stabilizing influence was there for all to see. He played well within himself, remaining on the field for the entire game, and frankly did not put a foot wrong all night.
The Chelsea faithful are starting to become impatient with big money signing Fernando Torres, who is still awaiting his first goal in a Chelsea shirt. He had a chance as early as the 6th minute when he pounced on an error by Antonio Valencia and drove goalward, but the Spaniard was unable to beat the ever-reliable Edwin van der Sar. United’s veteran keeper was further tested in the 19th minute when he had to deflect a pile-driver from Didier Drogba over the bar.
The game’s defining moment came after 23 minutes when Michael Carrick received the ball on the right of midfield and deposited a glorious cross-field ball perfectly into the stride of Ryan Giggs coming in from the left just a yard or two in from the byline.
Giggs’s initial touch was all class. He went past Jose Bosingwa as if the Chelsea right back was not there and pulled the ball back to where Wayne Rooney was waiting around the penalty spot. The England man’s precise first-time shot beat Petr Cech to his left and went in off the inside of the post.
Chelsea naturally tried to come back, but they were unable to really gain the ascendancy. Indeed, Cech was called into action to save a long-range effort from Rooney just a minute before the break. Then came what proved to be Chelsea’s best opportunity of the match. Didier Drogba cut in from the left and released a weak shot that rebounded off the far post into the path of Frank Lampard, playing his 500th game in a Chelsea shirt, but Lampard’s attempt was dramatically cleared off the line by Patrice Evra.
Chelsea showed much more urgency in the second half, yet was unable to stamp their authority on the game in the way they would have liked. Most observers were surprised when the impressive Didier Drogba made way for Nicolas Anelka with 20 minutes left. The French striker is Chelsea’s leading scorer in European competition this season with seven to his name, so it was reasonable for Carlo Ancelotti to introduce him into the fray, but everyone expected it would be the out-of-sorts Torres who would make way.
Perhaps inspired by the confidence shown in him by the manager, Torres came within a whisker of grabbing that longed-for first goal just three minutes later, but van der Sar, at full stretch, palmed his header to safety. It was the best opportunity Chelsea would create in the second half. An 81st-minute Lampard free kick was well struck but straight at the goalkeeper. Defender Branislav Ivanovic burst through the middle a few minutes later but also shot straight at Van der Sar.
Before the end, Ramires had a strong shout for a penalty turned down, and then moments later Torres was booked for diving. Sir Alex Ferguson can therefore have no complaints about the officiating at Stamford Bridge on this occasion. United have the job half-done and will go into the return leg next Tuesday as favorites, but with only a one-goal deficit to pull back, Chelsea are by no means out of it.
Barcelona Virtually Home and Dry
Barcelona demolished Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk 5–1 and have almost certainly set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash with fierce rival Real Madrid.
Both clubs will take four-goal leads into their second leg fixtures and it is hard to see either of the Spanish giants slipping up.