After the first leg at Stamford Bridge both clubs went into the second leg of this Carling Cup tie level at 0-0, so it was all to play for this evening at Old Trafford. The winners were guaranteed a place at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff to play Liverpool, and in true award style fashion, the winners were, Chelsea! On a night when Man Utd fielded their strongest possible team, we were the ones to come away with the deserved victory thanks to goals by Frank Lampard and Damien Duff.
It was a night when Jose Mourinho was celebrating his 42nd birthday and what better way to top it off than by beating United. This was their first defeat in a major Semi Final under Alex Ferguson. It went a long way to making up for the 1994 FA Cup Final and the Semi Final of the FA Cup in 1996, although this was the Carling Cup it is still a very important competition for the club, under Mourinho this will be his first major final since coming to England and Chelsea’s first major final since we lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup in 2002.
Chelsea just go from strength to strength under Mourinho, this is a team full of spirit, confidence and belief, this was demonstrated at full time when Mourinho came onto the Old Trafford pitch to celebrate with each and every Chelsea player. The team spirit is just amazing. A piece of history was made this evening also, in seven previous attempts to win at Old Trafford in cup competitions against Manchester United we’ve always come away as losers, at the eighth attempt tonight, it was our turn. The tide is turning away from Ferguson and Wenger at United and Arsenal, we are the best team at present in England and what better way to show it than by getting the victory. Jose Mourinho elected to make one change from the team that defeated Portsmouth in the Premiership on Saturday; Tiago came in for Joe Cole. Carlo Cudicini who’d played every other Carling Cup match this season was dropped to a substitutes role as Jose felt that Petr Cech with his height could handle any crosses coming in from Giggs and Ronaldo out wide. However, in giving Cech the ‘keepers role this evening, Mourinho promised that Carlo would be installed as ‘keeper in the final if we got to Cardiff. So, on February 28, a piece of team news is that Carlo will be in goal against Liverpool.
Parts of the first half were played at a very low tempo this evening, both teams played a more European style, keeping possession when necessary but when it mattered the tempo would soon be upped and efforts were made. The efforts from United were few and far between, they didn’t have any shots on target in the first half with Wayne Bridge and Paulo Ferreira nullifying the threat of Giggs and Ronaldo, John Terry, William Gallas and Claude Makelele were simply not going to let United get the upper hand, JT, Willie Gallas and Makka have been towers of strength this season and that continued this evening. Wayne Bridge was maybe lucky not give a penalty away when Fortune was fouled in the box, but referee Rob Styles who was possibly unsighted didn’t point to the spot and let the game continue. We had our first chance in the very first minute, a ball played in from the right by Damien Duff found Frank Lampard but his shot went wide. We made the breakthrough first though in the 29th minute, what a terrific goal it was too. Frank Lampard received the ball in the centre circle, he played the ball to Arjen Robben who found Didier Drogba on the left, Drogba held the ball up beat one player, found Lamps who’d started the move, he controlled the ball with one foot and with the other, coolly slotted it to Tim Howard’s right and we were on our way, 0-1 to the good.
United started the second half with more passion to their play, Ferguson had obviously told his troops that he wanted to be the one to try and stop our march for the quadruple. With 59 minutes played he bought on Wayne Rooney and put him up front with Louis Saha. With just the one striker up front we were comfortable, with two and Giggs and Ronaldo their shape turned from 4-3-3 to 4-2-4 as Ferguson was going all out for the equaliser. It was Chelsea though who very nearly scored about eight minutes after the substitution. Frank Lampard had a shot saved by Howard and two minutes later Arjen Robben had a shot on target that again was saved by Howard, but this time with his feet. At 0-2 there wouldn’t have been any come back for United. During this period of play there were a few niggly tackles going in, Makelele in trying to hold off Ronaldo got a free kick, but was booked for kicking fresh air when it looked like Ronaldo was his victim. Keane was also booked for getting involved as a small scuffle of handbags broke out. However, sanity was soon restored. Unfortunately for us after our two great efforts on target from Lamps & Robben United scored in the 67th minute. A ball played by Phil Neville on the right was knocked into the area, with Giggs just beating JT the Welshman stuck out his foot, the ball looped up and over the leaping Petr Cech and went in. We still had the advantage, at 1-1 if extra time was played and the game remained level then by virtue of the away goal we’d have gone through, however another 30 minutes on top of the 90 wasn’t what we really wanted.
With Man United scoring, Jose took off Didier Drogba and bought on Eidur Gudjohnsen straight away. Five minutes after Eidur came on a ball played by Robben from the left just evaded him, as he couldn’t quite reach it to beat Howard. The game was looking likely to go into extra time, but with five minutes to go, Tiago was fouled out on the right. Damien Duff stepped up to take the free kick, as the ball was played in it evaded the mass of bodies in the box and Tim Howard left was rooted to his spot as the ball curled into the left hand corner of the net. Duffer was excellent throughout the game, tracking back when he had to and scoring from a wonderful free kick. Was this game over? Well with three minutes left Wayne Bridge cleared off the line after Silvestre had met a corner, it beat Cech but Bridgey was there to clear. Cech also made two great saves to deny United and with almost five minutes of injury time played Rob Styles blew his whistle. The Chelsea players celebrated together along with Jose as Cardiff beckoned and a trip to play Liverpool in the Carling Cup Final.
It’s a night to celebrate, a night to be proud to be a Chelsea fan and to be associated with the club. Every player in Blue gave his all for the cause. After the West Ham game in the Carling Cup I proclaimed we were on our way to Cardiff. Tonight we are, the Blue Flag is flying very high and we’re up in the sky with elation. From Stamford Bridge to the Millennium Stadium. Is our first trophy under Jose Mourinho just around the corner? Let’s hope so!
Man Utd: Howard, G. Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze, Ronaldo, Keane, Scholes, Fortune (Rooney 59), Giggs, Saha.
Subs Not Used: P. Neville, Brown, O’Shea, Ricardo.
Chelsea: Cech, Ferreira, Terry, Gallas, Bridge, Lampard, Makelele, Tiago, Duff (Jarosik 87), Robben (Cole 90), Drogba (Gudjohnsen 68)
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Huth.
Referee: R. Styles.