A late Ryan Giggs free-kick erased memories of last season's loss to LOSC Lille Métropole as Manchester United FC achieved a 1-0 victory in Lens that leaves them in command ahead of the return leg of their UEFA Champions League first knockout round contest.
No Lille repeat
Unable to repeat their heroic success against the same opponents in November 2005, Claude Puel's side were nonetheless a good match for Sir Alex Ferguson's visitors until the 83rd minute, when Giggs floated a quickly-taken free-kick into the top right-hand corner of Tony Sylva's net from 23 metres.
The venue may have lacked the majesty of the Stade de France, where United came unstuck in the group stage last term, but the stakes were much higher and Lille made the early running spurred on by vociferous home support. Theirs was the first chance of the evening, too, a looping header over the bar from surprise starter Nicolas Fauvergue. The Premiership leaders threatened themselves when Wayne Rooney volleyed high from just inside the area on 20 minutes.
The England forward featured alongside Henrik Larsson in a 4-4-2 configuration that signalled attacking intent, while wide men Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo repeatedly switched flanks to shake things up. Seemingly trying to help them, the Ligue 1 outfit started making a bad habit of losing the ball in dangerous positions, but the real action was taking place in the referee's notebook, where Fauvergue, Patrice Evra, Mathieu Debuchy and Nemanja Vidić all saw their names inscribed within the first half-hour.
Indeed, the encounter became tied up in midfield until Giggs surged down the right five minutes before the interval and fed Rooney close to goal. His pass to Larsson was blocked low down by Sylva, and it needed a fantastic interception from Debuchy to keep out Ronaldo's effort on the rebound. Mathieu Bodmer then rolled a shot wide from distance at the other end as the half finished with scores and honours even.
The game had been a patchy affair, but a moment of magic from Rooney kick-started a period of pressure from United when he took possession in the middle of the pitch. Skipping past Nicolas Plestan with ease, the 21-year-old chipped a pass across goal and narrowly beyond a diving Giggs. Soon after, Ronaldo got the better of left-back Grégory Tafforeau for once and stung Sylva's gloves with a rasping drive.
Not to be outdone, Lille responded through Bodmer, who perhaps should have produced better than the weak point-blank attempt Edwin van der Sar deflected wide with his foot. Les Dogues then thought they had scored when Peter Odemwingie headed in Ludovic Obraniak's centre, only to be penalised for pushing Vidić. That scare convinced Sir Alex to introduce Louis Saha in place of Ronaldo, the Frenchman making an immediate impact with a low effort which Sylva dived to his right to claim.
The flurry of chances continued with Odemwingie curling wide before Larsson squirmed free and lobbed over. Just when it seemed the match would remain goalless, however, Giggs stepped up to send United home with their grip on this tie. The two teams resume action at Old Trafford on 7 March.