Manchester United FC will have one eye on the UEFA Champions League semi-finals after Wayne Rooney's first-half strike gave them a priceless away goal against Chelsea FC.
Billed as the Blues' chance to draw a line under their defeat by United in the 2008 final in Moscow, a cagey first leg was decided by Rooney's well-taken strike in the 24th minute after great work by the evergreen Ryan Giggs. Though the odds have swung in United's favour before next Tuesday's second leg at Old Trafford, Chelsea had their chances and were only the width of the post away from equalising.
Neither side were able to hit their usual stride in the early stages, with time and space on the ball coming at an exorbitant premium and big-match nerves evident in the number of stray passes. It was nearly 20 minutes before the first chance fell to Didier Drogba, the Ivorian international's rasping shot from inside the area turned over the top by Edwin van der Sar.
The match clearly needed a goal to spark into life and Rooney duly provided it. Michael Carrick's superb crossfield ball found Giggs and the 37-year-old Welshman's first touch took him straight past José Bosingwa before his cut-back picked out Rooney for a first-time finish that flew in off the post.
A goal down, Chelsea showed more urgency going forward but the task of finding a way through United's well-organised defence proved no easier. Bosingwa managed to slide a venomous ball across the face of the United goal, but Drogba was unable to make contact and the visitors' threat on the break remained real.
A curling ball from Rooney only just eluded Javier Hernández as United came close to a second – before riding their luck at the other end just before the break. A cross from Drogba towards Torres ended up hitting the far post and Lampard's scuffed flick at the rebound was cleared off the line by Patrice Evra.
Chelsea's luck failed to improve after the restart, with Drogba sending a bicycle kick wide of the mark and his team-mates toiling to create clear-cut chances. Michael Essien met Nemanja Vidić's headed clearance with a volley from the edge of the area that fizzed just wide but, after 70 minutes, Carlo Ancelotti had seen enough.
Drogba and Yuri Zhirkov were replaced by Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda, while the decision to leave Torres on nearly paid quick dividends when the Spain striker's goal-bound header drew a brilliant, fingertip save from Van der Sar.
Lampard later drilled a low free-kick at United's Dutch keeper, who was faultless as the Blues peppered his goal with shots in the closing stages, doing just what was needed to keep the Premier League rivals in the driving seat before they meet again in six days' time.
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