Belfast Telegraph

James Lawton: Chelsea fans hold breath for Abramovich's next move

Roman Abramovich can move on Carlo Ancelotti as quickly as he likes now. Again, the oligarch peers at another skull's head vision of the Champions League he craves so desperately and, who knows, he may wish to give it another wild try.

A new man, a fresh set of whims may be on the agenda, even while his latest fad, £50m Fernando Torres, struggles for the life and confidence that once made him one of the most formidable strikers in the world.

However, if Abramovich's samovar is not on the point of overflowing with something close to terminal bitterness, he might just consider another option. It's called continuity and understanding and respect for professionals who over the years have shown they understand the fundamental reasons why some teams win and some lose.

Last night he sat in the directors' box here with a deeply reflective expression on his face. It seemed reasonable to believe it might just have been dawning on him quite how well such a policy continues to work for Manchester United.

Three years ago United wrecked Abramovich's deepest football ambition in his hometown of Moscow. They spoilt a party that was promising to glitter like some throwback to the days of the Tsar. Last night they did it with considerably more ease.

This doesn't mean United are quite what they were when they won their second European Cup under Sir Alex Ferguson but they were recognisably a team of self-belief and impressive habits. They didn't look look as though they had been meddled with to the point of breakdown. Chelsea did – and at times to a pitiful degree.

The nadir of the Chelsea season, the most demoralising evidence of the misadventure which began with the brutal sacking of Ancelotti's assistant, Ray Wilkins, came at half-time when Torres was replaced by Didier Drogba – and for a little while Chelsea found a little of the rhythm that has been so elusive since the team was effectively redrawn in the last hours before the transfer deadline.

Hauntingly for the stricken Ancelotti, not only did Drogba do what Torres has found impossible at Chelsea, he did it with the kind of service that the Spaniard had been totally lacking in the first half which ended with a United goal quite as brilliant as the one that gave them such a vital edge in the first leg at Stamford Bridge.

Drogba's goal was taken with some of the best of his swagger after Michael Essien had delivered a rare pass to penetrate the United cover, which Rio Ferdinand, despite some physical inconvenience, and Nemanja Vidic had mostly maintained with impeccable authority. However, United's response was in keeping with so much of their play over both legs. Park Ji-sung immediately restored the two-goal advantage after another of brilliant aplomb from Ryan Giggs.

It was more evidence of a team who after spending most of a season contriving results almost in spite of themselves, one which had found easy creativity the most elusive of qualities, had suddenly found a vein of something suspiciously resembling gold. Javier Hernandez smashed the ball into the roof of the net after John O'Shea had sent Giggs into the box with a pass of beautiful simplicity that enabled the Welshman to cross to the feet of the young Mexican.

In all of this there was an extraordinary sense of a Wayne Rooney whose appetite for football had grown dramatically with the prospect of his missing Saturday's FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City at Wembley. His hunger for the ball was nothing less than voracious and some of the use he put it too was often breathtaking.

For Ancelotti it was a night of shattered last hopes. United had too much depth to their game, too much confidence in their ability to fashioned moves of genuine originality. It has been a remarkable transformation in the scale of United's ambition these last few days – and there is a growing cast of characters who can lay claim to significant contributions.

Rooney has been hugely significant, along with the authority and calm brought by Ferdinand and the latest reinventions of Giggs. Again, Michael Carrick looked like a player who had rediscovered the origins of his old confidence and, in the end, it was true that wherever you looked there was a United player willing to assume some new responsibility.

Not the least example of this hauteur was the fine tackle and clearance performed on Nicolas Anelka by United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. Such facility, such belief, was desperately missing in almost everything Chelsea did. They were a fractured team which now has to be re-built. But by whom? A professional football man – or someone who could fill one his yachts with all his football whims? For Chelsea fans, it can only be the bleakest speculation.

Belfast Telegraph


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