United travelled to Stamford Bridge in the quarter final of the Champions League looking to set up a potential semi final berth, whilst pursuing an ever increasingly likely treble. However, having not won at the Bridge for the best part of a decade, the odds were stacked against United, with Chelsea licking their wounds after what has been a disappointing season for the west London club looking to secure their first ever European cup success. Maligned striker Wayne Rooney started in the wake of his controversial two match ban after his swearing outburst against West Ham at the weekend, and he was looking to silence his critics by doing his talking on the pitch. United were also boosted by the shock inclusion of Rio Ferdinand after initial fears that he had been ruled out of the season.
With plenty on the line, there were concerns pre match that the game would become a stalemate with neither side wanting to lag behind in the tie. However, the game started in a very open fashion, with both sides being stretched from the off as Chelsea looked to apply early pressure, whilst United threatened on the break. Fears about the strength of United’s midfield, with Carrick and Giggs in the middle were alleviated as the two began to run the game with a series of excellent passes and movement keeping the Chelsea midfield shackled. And it was United’s midfield maestro’s who were instrumental in the opening goal, as Carrick’s arrowing long ball was expertly brought down by Giggs, before squaring back to Rooney who gleefully tapped in his 4th goal in 2 games.
With the precious away goal secured, United appeared content to soak up what Chelsea had to offer, before springing the ball forward to Rooney and Hernandez and threaten on the break. Out of form Fernando Torres rarely threatened the United goal, as Rio Ferdinand proved exactly why he has been so desperately missed by United in the previous month. Despite looking relatively solid throughout the first half, United were counting their blessings to get in at half time ahead, owing a debt of gratitude to Patrice Evra for his goal line intervention from Frank Lampards rebounded effort.
A tense second half awaited United, as they attempted to preserve what could be a potentially decisive goal lead for the return leg at Old Trafford. Inevitably Chelsea began to control the game as they searched for a way back into the tie, however they were greeted by a determined looking and solid United defence. When on 75 minutes, Fernando Torres was allowed a rare glimpse at goal, his header was met by the out stretching hand of Edwin Van Der Sar who produced a simply magnificent, match winning save to keep United ahead. Despite having 20 minutes of good possession and territory, Chelsea never really threatened the United goal and it appeared that it would require something special to break down United’s defence. In the 90th minute, it appeared as though Chelsea had found their way through, as Rameires burst into the area, only for Patrice Evra to intervene with what looked to be a clear foul in the penalty area. Much to United’s relief however, the referee waved away Chelsea’s protests, probably in light of Fernando Torres’s earlier fraudulent penalty appeals, handing United a long overdue piece of good fortune at Stamford Bridge.
United continue their phenomenally good recent away form in Europe, having not even conceded an away goal in the competition this season. Although the reds are in poll position to win the tie, victory is not guaranteed yet, and a big performance is required next tuesday to see United through to the semi finals. The incentive to get there however is great, with the likely semi finalists being Shalke, who by all accounts are struggling in the German league, and about as easy a semi final you are every likely to get. United now turn their attention back to the Premier League with the visit of Fulham on saturday.