Saturday, March 17, 2007


Christiano Ronaldo may leave Old Trafford after this season , but he is determined to make a name for himself.

Only a late, and questionable, penalty blotted what was an excellent attacking display with two goals each for Wayne Rooney and Ji-sung Park blowing Bolton away at Old Trafford. The win takes the Reds a step closer to the title with eight games remaining this season.

United’s attacking trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Rooney were in scintillating form and too much for Bolton to cope with, while Park’s tenacity and tireless running added further potency going forward.

This fixture had an air of danger about it. With United’s away fixtures cited as the key to the title, Bolton represented a potentially stern test at home, but the Reds were irrepressible storming into a three-goal half-time lead that had Sam Allardyce’s side seemingly accepting of the inevitable.

Without Edwin van der Sar, still out with a calf strain, Tomasz Kuszczak continued to deputise in goal, while Gaby Heinze maintained his place at left back in the absence of Mikael Silvestre and Patrice Evra, who returned to the substitutes bench after a spell out injured. Also denied the services of Louis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and with Henrik Larsson’s loan now expired, Sir Alex started with Giggs and Rooney up front, with Park and Ronaldo on the flanks.

Bolton made the first impression on the match inside thirty seconds when a poor John O’Shea clearance found its way to the feet of Nicolas Anelka, whose shot went wide but had Kuszczak scranbling across his goal. However, it was United who should have taken the early lead when after six minutes Park blazed a shot over the bar from inside the six-yard box. Ronaldo and Heinze combined on the left, and from the Argentine’s curling cross Giggs’ glancing header forced Jussi Jaaskelainen to palm the ball out, but Park fired over.
Three minutes later it was 2-0 with counter-attacking football of the most ruthless brand. Ronaldo was again the architect. Defending calm enough to make Rio Ferdinand look uptight, he chested the ball down inside the box and found Rooney with a disguised pass. The 21-year-old instinctively laid the ball back into Ronaldo’s path and the two surged forward at full speed. Nicky Hunt struggled to stay in touch as the Portuguese winger slid a perfectly weighted through-ball into Rooney’s path and he deftly lofted his shot over Jaaskelainen for his 50th United goal.

The Reds were rampant and, seemingly showing no sign of taking the foot off the throttle, pushed for a third. As the half hour approached it arrived, with a queue of United players on the edge of the area ready to shoot. And when Ronaldo shifted the ball from right to left before forcing Jaaskelainen to spill his shot, Park was once again first to react, sliding in for his second and United’s third. Bolton looked so vapid that Sam Allardyce was forced into a change, bringing on El Hadji Diouf to replace Henrik Pedersen.

United chances kept on coming. Carrick could have got United’s fourth when Rooney and Giggs again countered at speed before the Welshman’s pull-back was stroked just wide by the Reds playmaker. Ronaldo also spurned an opportunity, which would have capped his wonderful performance five minutes after the restart, but he couldn’t quite reach Heinze’s teasing cross. And Giggs watched as his clever chip over Jaaskelainen drifted narrowly wide. The Welshman was then replaced by Kieran Richardson to a standing ovation – which included an applauding Rooney – his damage already done.


Sat, 17th Mar 2007

From the moment Andriy Shevchenko smashed the Blues into an early lead, Chelsea enjoyed a comfortable ride to another three points.

For all their renowned battling qualities, the visitors from South Yorkshire had little to offer in this game, especially after the lead was doubled before 20 minutes were up.

Petr Cech was called briefly into action in the first-half but by then Salomon Kalou had added the second with Michael Ballack heading in the third in the second-half.

As at Man City midweek, as an exercise in steady points accumulation without draining the tanks, the game went well - and this time without any closing minute stress.

Midway through a squeezed-tight game schedule that matches the Christmas programme for its intensity, it was inevitable that José Mourinho would rest some legs for this fixture, and he took the major decision to put the country's top-scorer, Didier Drogba, on the bench.

That meant Kalou kept his place after influencing the midweek result at Man City when he won the crucial penalty.

Ballack was another not to start so Shaun Wright-Phillips was asked to play in a midfield position, not for the first time this season, and behind him at right-back was Khalid Boulahrouz.

The Dutch defender was starting for the first time since dislocating his shoulder exactly a month ago.

The Drogba gamble looked a low risk one as soon as fourth minute when Shevchenko hammered Chelsea into the lead.

The source of the attack was Riccy Carvalho. Striding forward as he likes to do at least once per match, the centre-back burst between two players and into opposition territory before picking out Sheva with a 45-yard ball.

Chesting down into his stride, the striker's shot was possibly the sweetest he's struck since coming to London. Kenny in goal didn't have a prayer.

Shevchenko's 12th for the season, it was his first in the league for four months.

Having watched Man United put four past Bolton with just one in reply in the lunchtime kick-off, the emphasis was on the Blues to put on a morale boosting show.

That looked very much on the agenda as the second was added with just 16 minutes gone.

The finish by Kalou was simple enough - from three yards out into an unguarded net - but the move had been sharp and incisive.

Robben's clever ball wide stretched the defence, Wright-Phillips crossed low and Shevchenko at the near-post fought off Davis to divert the ball across to the scorer.

Kalou it seems has discovered his goal touch. This was his third in the last five games.

United could have pulled one back within minutes had it not been for the excellence of Cech. The powerful Kazim-Richards charged through the middle and unleashed an effort to match Shevchenko's goal in power.

Such was the strength in Cech's wrist that when he reached up to save, the ball rebounded as if off the crossbar.

There was important work by the keeper again on 24 minutes as he blocked with his legs as Rob Hulse reached a low ball in from the right.

To the visitors' dismay, the incident finished off their leading scorer's game. A collision between his leg and that of Cech's had caused some painful damage and after lengthy treatment, he was carried off to applause from the Chelsea support.

United had the ball in the net after half-an-hour after Cech spilled a Davis header but it was disallowed for offside. A foul could have just as easily ruled it out.

On the start of five added minutes at the end of the first-half, a Chelsea scrambled attack ended with Lampard stabbing wide as he was tackled.

That was the vice-captain's last contribution. The squad rotation turned once more at half-time with Ballack a straight swap.

Shevchenko laid on a chance for Kalou soon after the restart by Geary got in a saving tackle. Instead, the third goal would be Ballack's.

Wright-Phillips, a day after his omission from the England squad, had been involved frequently and to effect in the first-half, including a major part in the second goal, and he takes much credit for this third.

His was the swiftly taken free-kick from the left that allowed the towering German to nip away from his marker, in front of Kenny and head the ball in.

Bringing Didier Drogba on against a side already 3-0 down with half-an-hour still to play may be against the Geneva Convention, but that wasn't worrying José Mourinho.

Shevchenko was taken off, as was Ashley Cole with Paulo Ferreira the left-back's replacement.

On 66 minutes, Wright-Phillips was not far away with a grasscutter from 25 yards. Robben went equally close with a diagonal bullet from the right on 75 minutes.

By now it was total, calm, controlled blue-shirted dominance. The lack of bookings in the game tells its own tale.

Sections of home support in the closing stages indulged in a spot of rivalry over songs. The game had been the first for which vocally-inclined fans had been urged to sit together in the Shed End upper tier by the 'Return to the Shed' campaign. It will be no coincidence that the first song after kick-off eminated from that location.

So it is exactly as you were at the top of the table - a six point gap with a 15 goal differential in goal difference maintained.

With various cup and European games interspersed, it is easy to overlook how good league form has been of late. This was the fifth straight win in the competition since the defeat at Anfield, all with clean sheets.

The Blues head to White Hart Lane in just over 48 hours time in good shape and in good heart.

Chelsea (4-3-3) Cech, Boulahrouz, Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole (Ferreira 65); Wright-Phillips, Makelele, Lampard (Ballack h-t); Kalou, Shevchenko (Drogba 65), Robben.
Scorers Shevchenko 3, Kalou 16, Ballack 57.

Sheff Utd (4-4-1-1) Kenny; Geary, Morgan (c), Davis, Armstrong; Gillespie, Montgomery, Jagielka, Kazim-Richards; A Quinn (Tonge 67); Hulse (Nade 26).

No comments: