It’s a good job swearing is now officially banned after Wayne Rooney was caught cussing up Upton Park last weekend, or this match report would be pretty expletive-laden. That man Rooney scored the only goal of a tight game to hand Manchester United the advantage heading into next week’s second leg, but again controversy struck during a Chelsea Champions League match.
Having trailed since Rooney’s 24th minute effort, the Blues were making a late attempt at an equaliser when Ramires burst into the box and tangled with Patrice Evra. For tangled, read: absolutely wiped out by a challenge from behind, the French defender wrapping an outstretched leg around Ramires’ heels and getting nowhere near the ball. Predictably, the referee, Alberto Undiano Mallenco, refused to give a penalty or even acknowledge the clumsy challenge.
Chelsea now have it all to do, while United will be bouyed by a job well done. Sir Alex Ferguson was talking up the importance of an away goal before the game, and was able to call upon former England captain Rio Ferdinand who returned in the centre of defence. Luis Antonio Valencia started in place of Nani. The tedious ‘striker dilemma’ Carlo Ancelotti must contend with before any game was solved this time with Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba in tandem up-front, while Yuri Zhirkov took Florent Malouda’s place on the left. Yossi Benayoun was named on the subs’ bench after missing most of the season out through injury.
The home side started brightly, with Torres in particular looking raring to go, but one half-chance early on saw a ball swung into the box in the Spaniard’s direction, only for Ferdinand to reach the ball first and clear to safety. A powerful Drogba shot was also beaten over the bar by Edwin van der Sar, but with too many misplaced passes and not a lot of space to play around in, chances were few and far between.
Unfortunately, one of the only clear opportunities was neatly dispatched by Rooney. Michael Carrick – frustratingly efficient throughout – found Ryan Giggs on the left with a lovely ball, and the veteran was able to play himself into the box under little pressure from José Bosingwa. Giggs’ low cross found an unmarked Rooney who placed his shot against the far post and in for 1-0. And he kept his mouth shut whilst celebrating.
An acrobatic attempt at a leveller went badly wrong for Torres, while Michael Essien saw a shot blocked by what seemed like thousands of red shirts in the United box. Javier Hernandez came close to a second at the other end for the visitors, but Petr Cech was able to palm a deadly cross away before it reached the diminutive striker, before a genuine chance for Chelsea on the stroke of half-time.
Drogba crossed into the box and Torres – by bad luck or good judgement – dummied, leaving a wrong-footed van der Sar stranded as the ball found its way to the back post. It ricocheted off, with Frank Lampard waiting to knock it home, but somehow Evra was able to clear off the line.
The beginning of the second-half also saw a Blues chance, with Ramires botching a free header just yards out from goal following another Drogba cross. The Ivorian then showed Torres how to perform an overhead kick, although his sweet connection only led to an effort going wide of the goal.
Bookings and substitutions dominated the second 45, with Drogba, Zhirkov and Bosingwa replaced by Nicolas Anelka, Malouda and, surprisingly, John Obi Mikel. While Drogba retreated to the bench though, Torres seriously tested van der Sar with a superb header which was only kept out by an even better full-stretch save by the goalkeeper. Lampard also managed a free-kick on target – rather than straight into the wall, as is his custom – while Branislav Ivanovic charged forward and drilled a low shot straight at van der Sar.
Then came the penalty shout, followed by a ridiculous dive from Torres in an attempt to win a spot-kick, followed by the final whistle, and the inevitable heartache which follows most of Chelsea’s Champions League knockout games. There is a heck of a lot to do for the Blues next week at Old Trafford, and you can swear by it being another controversial game.