Manchester United took another big step towards the Treble on Tuesday night as they reached the Champions League semi-finals for the fourth time in five years. Javier Hernandez and Park Ji-Sung gave United a 3-1 aggregate win after substitute Didier Drogba equalised on the night for 10-man Chelsea, who had Ramires sent off in the second half. Defeat means Carlo Ancelotti’s side are likely to finish the season empty-handed and leaves the Italian with his job on the line.
Ancelotti later admitted he may have blundered by starting with £50million striker Fernando Torres, who was substituted at half-time after failing to score for the 11th game. Ferguson, who was taking charge of his 100th European game at Old Trafford, paid tribute to Ryan Giggs who set up both of United’s goals, saying: ‘He’s incredible — a unique person and player. His contribution is big because of the goal he set up in the first game, and the part he played in the goals tonight. To play at 37 requires tremendous sacrifice.’
Drogba, a half-time replacement for Torres, cancelled out Hernandez’s goal after 76 minutes but United were ahead again through Park 21 seconds later. Ferguson added: ‘That was the break we got in the game, to be honest. It was a stupid goal for us to lose and we had to respond quickly. Park’s record in big games is fantastic.
‘We played very well against a very good team. Even with 10 men they had a go and credit to them, but I thought we were the better team on the night.’
Questioned about winning the Treble as United prepare for Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City, Ferguson said: ‘I keep being asked about it but you need luck to do that. Saturday is a massive game.
‘Momentum is a great thing and everybody is desperate to play in every game. They’re desperate to play against City on Saturday.’
United are now set for a likely semi-final meeting with Schalke.
Ancelotti insisted he does not fear for his future following Chelsea’s latest European failure. He said: ‘I’m not concerned. I have to work. I have to try to do my best. It’s not my decision whether I stay or not here. I haven’t spoken with him (Roman Abramovich).’
Asked if it was a mistake to start with Torres rather than Drogba, he added: ‘Maybe. Could be. But I thought a long time to take this decision. I preferred to start with Fernando for this kind of game, with these kind of tactics. Didier played very well in the second half.’
The Little Pea, Javier Hernandez, continues to sprout at an astonishing rate. Ryan Giggs is laughing in the face of his pension book and United can swear by Wayne Rooney once again. This may not be the greatest side ever to be seen at Old Trafford but they are as confident as any of their predecessors and will firmly believe they can land the Treble.
Giggs has seen it all and done it all but the 37-year-old is as enthusiastic as when he burst on the scene at the age of 17. He was the creator of all three goals in this Champions League quarter-final tie, laying on Rooney’s strike at Stamford Bridge and the two here last night for Hernandez and Ji-Sung Park.
Hernandez, 22, is the find of the season and has emerged as one of United’s key men. At £7million, the Little Pea did not even cost big potatoes – unlike Chelsea’s £50m misfit Fernando Torres, who was embarrassingly subbed at half-time. It was the Mexican’s 18th goal of his debut campaign which set United on the road to victory in the 43rd minute. Chelsea midfielder Ramires was sent off for two bookable offences with 20 minutes left but sub Didier Drogba equalised on 77 minutes to give Chelsea hope. Only for United to snuff that out within 21 seconds after play had re-started when the ever- reliable Park netted from 12 yards.
Chelsea’s season is done. All that remains is to get a top-four spot so they can have another go at trying to win the trophy which has once more eluded them. Expect more forensic examination of the tormented Torres along the way. He has now gone 692 minutes without a goal since joining the Blues from Liverpool.
Andy Carroll’s double against Manchester City the previous night would suggest it has all worked out rather well at Anfield. As for Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti, can he really survive? He says his job is not under threat but Blues owner Roman Abramovich, watching from the directors’ box, is obsessed by Europe’s biggest club prize and will not take this elimination well. Few would have chosen Torres in the starting line-up but Ancelotti had clearly decided to appease Abramovich by selecting the Spanish striker.
Drogba had good reason to feel aggrieved about that. This game was made for him and his second-half performance showed why he should have got the nod to start. For all that, Chelsea began the stronger as Torres glanced a header wide and laid a ball back for Nicolas Anelka, who smacked an effort past the post. But that was it for Torres – we never saw him again. Remember the days when he used to run rings round Nemanja Vidic? The worry for United was that Rio Ferdinand, so vital to their cause, was limping around at the back having been hurt in a scramble on the edge of the box. And he was still struggling as Florent Malouda fed Frank Lampard in space.
The England midfielder should have scored but his side-footed shot neither had the power or accuracy to beat Edwin van der Sar. An Anelka strike whistled over but Hernandez thought he had eased the tension when he met a cracking curling cross from Rooney to head in. The linesman’s flag curtailed celebrations – it was a marginal offside call. But United hit Chelsea with a sucker-punch two minutes before the break.
Rooney played a great pass out wide over the head of Anelka before Giggs cushioned it back to John O’Shea. The full-back saw Giggs dart in behind the Blues rearguard and picked him out with a defence- splitting ball. Giggs took the pass in his stride, whipped it across the six-yard box for Hernandez to finish. It put United two up on aggregate but Chelsea’s task was still the same in that they needed to score twice to go through.
Drogba had to replace Torres – which Ancelotti recognised at half time. Ramires was dismissed after two fouls on Nani to add to the Blues’ woes. But suddenly Michael Essien picked out Drogba with a raking pass and the Ivory Coast hitman rattled the ball home. Nerves were jangling round Old Trafford – but not for long.
Giggs was again the creator, playing in Park who made no mistake and set up a likely date with German side Schalke. It will be United’s fourth Champions League semi-final in five seasons. Next up, it is the FA Cup and a last-four tie against arch-rivals City at Wembley on Saturday. The mood United are in, you would not want to be a City player or a fan – even with Rooney suspended.
Copyright 2011 by Suffian Yans
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