Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: Manchester United can start to dream of treble joy

The treble is well and truly on now. Manchester United are edging closer and closer to it. Agreed, their Champions League quarter-final tie with Chelsea isn't over, but Sir Alex Ferguson's men are in control with the return leg at Old Trafford to come next week.

If they produce the same professional and accomplished performance that was on show last night, earning them a deserved 1-0 victory, then they'll be 180 minutes away from a European Cup decider.

And with that semi-final against Schalke, United fans can start preparing for a trip to Wembley on May 28.

The Premier League title is not far away, victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi will lead to success in that competition leaving only the top club prize in football to repeat the remarkable feats of 1999.

The way I see it, only Barcelona or Real Madrid can stop them now.

All this with a side who, unlike so many of Fergie's past United teams, are functional rather than fantastic to watch.

What they have in common, however, with the greats of yesteryear is that they know how to win.

Goalscorer Wayne Rooney will obviously claim the headlines, but this victory was all about the team.

From Edwin van der Sar in goal to Rio Ferdinand returning from injury at the back and Antonio Valencia down the right flank in attack and defence, United's players delivered.

Quite simply Chelsea's didn't.

They can complain about not getting a late penalty when Patrice Evra felled Ramires in the box, but for most of the game the visitors were comfortable at the back. Too comfortable.

Chelsea misplaced passes, screwed up set pieces and worst of all lacked the passion, that has seen them through against

United in recent times. In attack Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres continue to look like strangers.

Drogba's nose was well and truly put out of joint when Torres arrived from Liverpool for £50 million in January. The Ivory Coast striker has thought for years that he's the main man on and off the pitch at the Bridge — actually it's John Terry — so to see another big name forward come on the scene made him feel about as good as Aaron Lennon before a game at the Bernabeu.

And you can see it every time Drogba plays alongside the Spaniard.

They just don't gel.

Torres is still a shadow of the player that used to terrorise Nemanja Vidic and Ferdinand when he was at Liverpool.

His touch is poor, movement laboured and confidence low. He needs Steven Gerrard beside him, not Drogba.

Torres is aching for that first Chelsea goal.

In contrast Rooney can't stop scoring.

After the hat-trick in the east end of London, he struck again in the west of the city last night, calmly slotting home on 24 minutes.

Lo and behold there was a smile from Rooney, not a scowl and a string of expletives.

Instead of swearing into a camera, a la Upton Park, he rolled about the Stamford Bridge turf like a happy little boy.

See, Wayne, you can enjoy it when you score. Feels better, doesn't it?

The only people cursing were Chelsea fans, having seen their team stripped bare in what is likely to be a defining moment of the tie.

The brilliant Ryan Giggs did most of the undressing, popping up on the left wing — old habits die hard — to control a superb Michael Carrick pass before showing composure to pick out the unmarked Rooney.

The Welshman really is something else, no matter where he plays.

On Saturday, he changed the course of the game against West Ham by playing at full-back in the second half and last night he excelled in the middle.

When Van der Sar retires, Fergie will probably put him in goal. No doubt he'll shine there too.

Giggs won the treble in 1999. It's a distinct possibility that he'll be celebrating another in 2011.

Belfast Telegraph

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