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Hernandez stars as Torres reflects trouble at Chelsea

The contrast could not have been starker.

Javier Hernandez, a £7million signing who cannot stop scoring, slotted home the opening goal which propelled Manchester United into the semi-finals of the Champions League with a 2-1 victory, for an aggregate 3-1 win, against Chelsea.

Fernando Torres, a £50m signing who has forgotten how to score, was substituted at half-time, not so much a tactical change by Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti as an act of compassion.

It is not how much you spend, it is how wisely which counts.

That is something Sir Alex Ferguson grasped long ago and United's owners, the Glazer family, two brothers of whom were in attendance at Old Trafford, should be forever grateful for that.

The penny clearly still has to drop for Roman Abramovich, who bought Torres in January with the express purpose of winning Europe's most prestigious prize.

The chant around Old Trafford as the United crowd realised Torres work was not coming out at half-time?

"What a waste of money."

It was swiftly followed by a dig at Ancelotti: "You're getting sacked in the morning."

If Abramovich follows his usual modus operandi that might well be the case. That would be tough on Ancelotti who won the double last season but has inherited an ageing squad, one which has been disrupted by off-the-field distractions all season.

It was why, trailing 1-0 from the first leg, there was a feeling that this was now or never for Chelsea and Ancelotti. And so Ancelotti gambled.

That was obvious from the moment we saw the team sheet with Didier Drogba relegated to the substitutes' bench and Torres preferred up front. It was there in the formation, too, with Chelsea starting with a 4-3-2-1 line-up with Torres as the arrow tip.

That was Torres' preferred position for Liverpool and Spain. Ancelotti could have done no more to help his out-of-sorts striker.

Yet fate does not work like that. The harder you try sometimes the more difficult it gets.

Before this match Torres had toiled 817 minutes for club and country, a run spanning 13 matches, without finding the target. Quite frankly, at times it looked as if he might not ripple the net for another 13.

One mis-control and skewed shot after 22 minutes summed up the misery which has engulfed his game. It was accompanied by a collective guffaw from the United faithful. Jeering and booing is one thing, but when the opposition fans see you as an object of fun that really does suggest something is amiss.

At least Ancelotti did not prolong Torres's agony, replacing him at half-time with Drogba.

You could not say that Ancelotti and Chelsea did not go for it. No complaints with the work rate. In fact, they also looked the more composed side in the first half. Their passing was more precise and Frank Lampard and Ramires drove at the centre of United's defence. It was beginning to look like a tense and fraught night.

Yet while Chelsea have classy, stylish players, United have penetration. Always have had under Ferguson. The opening goal epitomised so much of what we have come to expect of them.

A sweeping crossfield ball beautifully controlled and rolled to John O'Shea, whose reverse pass to the on-rushing Giggs was a thing of beauty.

Giggs' wonderfully deft ball across the box for Hernandez to stab home from all of two feet was equally precise.

So simple, so clinical. So quintessentially United.

So typical of Ferguson to have come up with a summer signing in Hernandez who cost a pittance in Premier League terms but who has scored 18 goals so far this season and whose value has tripled or more in less than 12 months.

True, Chelsea's task was made all the more difficult when Ramires was sent off for a second bookable offence and who knows what might have happened if Drogba, who scored an equaliser after 76 minutes, had played the entire match. We will never know because Park Ji-sung spared the home side any frayed nerves by netting seconds later.

The bottom line? Ferguson is on course for a third Champions League trophy. Ancelotti must wait for the turn of Abramovich's thumb to learn his fate.

Belfast Telegraph


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