United continued their pursuit of a remarkable treble with the visit of Chelsea in the second leg of the Uefa Champions League quarter final. Having secured a one goal advantage last week at Stamford bridge, United merely needed to avoid defeat in order to secure their safe passage into the semi finals of the competition for the 4th time in 5 seasons. After resting several players for the weekends game against Fulham, the reds welcomed back Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Edwin Van Der Sar, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick back to the starting line up, with only Rafael and Antonio Valencia absent from the first leg. After much speculation during the week, Carlo Ancelotti somewhat controversially dropped frontman Didier Drogba from the starting line up, instead opting for £50 million signing Fernando Torres as the lone striker.
The temptation for United to sit back and preserve the slender lead must have been great, yet similar to the first leg, the match was played in an attacking fashion, with both sides keen on winning the match outright. Chelsea were close to a perfect start, after Florent Malouda weaved his way into the United penalty area, only for Frank Lampard to miss what was by his standards a relatively simple chance, hitting his shot straight at Edwin Van Der Sar. United responded from this early scare well however, and were unfortunate to have Javier Hernandez’s diving header ruled out for offside, given how there was merely millimeters of the Mexican frontman’s anatomy in an offside position.
With the advantage in the tie still in United’s grasp, a half time of 0-0 would have reflected a good nights work so far for the reds. However, things got significantly better for United, as minutes before the half time whistle, Hernandez latched on to a superb Ryan Giggs cross, the culmination of a sumptuous move, to tap United into the lead on the night and a 2 goal advantage in the tie. Although the momentum of the goal was likely to give Fergie’s side the edge, Chelsea’s requirement remained the same, in that 2 goals would have still been enough to send the London club through, placing massive importance on the next goal.
After what was an anonymous first half performance, Fernando Torres was withdrawn during the interval for Didier Drogba, and the Ivorian’s introduction seemed to galvanise a Chelsea side who were fighting for their season. However, as Chelsea’s pressure grew, so did United’s threat on the break, with Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney providing a constant menace to the Chelsea defence, preventing them from over committing forward. Pivotally, on 66 minutes, Chelsea’s task was made considerably harder by the reckless dismissal of Brazilian midfielder Rameires for a clumsy second bookable offence. Down to 10 men, Chelsea appeared dead and buried, yet they continued to persist and were rewarded with 15 minutes left on the clock, as the ever threatening Drogba latched on to a Michael Essien pass and smashed it home setting up a potentially tense 10 minutes for United.
However, in typical fashion, United settled the tie in dramatic style merely 20 seconds after the restart, as Ryan Giggs picked out Ji Sung Park with a sublime ball over the top, leaving the Korean with the task of chesting down and volleying United to the semi finals which he accomplished with measured assurance. For Chelsea double winners last term, their season is now ultimately over bar a miraculous change in fortunes in the league. United however appear to have peaked when it matters the most, having endured the wobble in March, and with the return to fitness of many of our squad, the spoils of a treble still loom large for the reds. With an FA cup semi final against City to come on saturday though, there are still plenty of obstacles in the way, and much football to be played before we can judge just how good this United side really is.