After a couple of days that saw Rooney face the prospect of a ban for his swearing at the weekend and with everyone adding their opinion on it, combined with his loss of his sponsorship with Coca Cola, everything seemed in place to let his football do the talking at a ground that has not been the best for United of late.
With a line up that saw a few surprises, most notably Nani being left on the bench and the boost to the defensive line up with the return of Rio Ferdinand, United fans would probably have been cautiously optimistic regarding the prospects of a victory. And after a tense tie, that saw United control large parts of the game, the first leg was decided by a first half goal from Rooney, giving United an away goal advantage to take back to Old Trafford. As such, here are five things that may be taken away from the game.
1) Rooney’s form is perfect timing
Forgetting the controversy regarding the swearing incident at Upton Park, one must admit that Rooney’s last couple of performances have been nothing short of superb. His hat trick at West Ham will have sent his confidence soaring, and it seems that all the backlash from an incident that has somehow overshadowed his performance meant he was only even more fired up to prove a point. From start to finish he played with a positive attitude, getting involved and generally making his presence felt as well as looking more like the Wayne Rooney pre-Bayern injury last season.
He linked up well with Hernandez, looking like an effective partnership that compliment each other extremely well. His performance was rewarded with a goal in the 24th minute when Ryan Giggs controlled Michael Carrick’s long pass beautifully out wide on the left, before passing swiftly to Rooney to coolly finish and to give United a deserved advantage. Luckily, his celebration was a little more conventional as well.
2) Park was an inclusion that paid off
Many will have been surprised to find Park included ahead of Nani on the left hand side, to partner Valencia. This was probably representative of the attitude Sir Alex Ferguson takes towards such big games. Preferring the protection that Park often offers on the left allows for a more cautious approach to the game that the more attack minded Nani would normally offer.
In fact, Park has always been a highly valued option as a “big game” player and his choice was rewarded with a performance that was workman-like and effective, displaying the attitude that United fans are well acquainted with, displaying great levels of stamina, particularly when one considers he had only recently recovered from from injury.
3) Michael Carrick provided evidence to support his new contract
For all the criticism that Carrick has faced this season from United fans (including myself), one could not argue with the fact that he gave one of his finest performances of the season on Wednesday night. Controlling the midfield, his passing was accurate and combined with Park, was the engine room of the United midfield, box to box he gave his all on a big night when it mattered most.
Simply put, he bossed the midfield, which allowed United to be far more assured during the game and as a result allowed for better control that restricted Chelsea going forward at times. Although the threat Chelsea posed was perhaps greater than United at times, it is fair to say that United were far more assured in possession and looked far more complete as a unit than their London counterparts.
Continued on page two.