Will Tidey - Ferguson's United have rediscovered their sense of timing
Published: 07 Apr 2011 - 07:31:00
First blood to Manchester United in the battle of the preeminent Premier League prize hunters, and nobody can doubt they deserved the 1-0 win they took from Stamford Bridge last night.
Chelsea should have had a penalty, but they didn't deserve a draw. Having been heavily fancied, despite the fact they trail United in the league table that best measures their wares, Carlo Ancelotti's team spluttered, but never really fired.
In contrast United looked ominously slick and purposeful, and in Wayne Rooney's composed finish on 24 minutes summoned a moment of quality Chelsea could only grasp at.
So much of sport is timing, and Sir Alex Ferguson's team appear to have set course on a steep upward trajectory just as the mountains come into view. On last night's evidence, talk of the Treble is not as preposterous as it once seemed. You could almost hear Clive Tyldesley saying, "name on the trophy".
Rio Ferdinand was back for his first start since February, and as commanding a presence as he's been for some time. It was his partnership with Nemanja Vidic that won United the 2008 Champions League, and it could yet be the difference again this season. Finally Ferdinand has some football to Tweet about.
At the other end of the field Rooney has rediscovered the swagger that defined his career before the 2010 World Cup. The ball is his best friend again, and it's doing just about everything he wants it to.
Then there's the return of Antonio Valencia, the form of Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra and Javier Hernandez, and the remarkable Ryan Giggs - who somehow managed to master a central midfield area boasting the mobility of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien. We should no longer be surprised.
In contrast, Ancelotti's timing is all wrong. The likes of Lampard, Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda have not delivered to him this season what they have in the past - and Fernando Torres, a match winner who will come again, is still yet to score since his £50 million move from Liverpool.
Tactically Chelsea looked inflexible in comparison to United, and as a team they appear in desperate need of an injection of belief and inspiration. If Ancelotti can deliver it he may yet save his job at Old Trafford, but as Petr Cech admitted after the game, they have a mountain to climb.
For it to happen, they'll need at least one of Torres, Drogba or Lampard to summon a match-winning salvo at Old Trafford. And defend for their lives.
United with Rooney on song are starting to feel like the irresistible force, and if Ferdinand maintains the kind of form he showed against Chelsea, they could yet be the immovable object.
When you consider they had Dimitar Berbatov and Nani on the bench last night - arguably two of their most influential players this season - it's clear Ferguson has his team in prime position, just as the battle takes flight.
Could it be 1999 all over again? You simply can't rule it out.
- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:Will Tidey
- Will Tidey writes on sport for CNN, Eurosport-Yahoo! and Bleacher Report, amongst others. His first book, 'Life with Sir Alex', an account of Sir Alex Ferguson's 25-year reign at Manchester United, is set for release in October this year. Pre-order it now at http://tinyurl.com/6xzl62b. And follow Will on Twitter here - www.twitter.com/willtidey
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