So all Chelsea have to do at Old Trafford on Tuesday night in order to reach the Champions' League semi-final is repeat their 2-1 away victory over Manchester United of a year ago. Hmmm. Easier said than won, not least because the main opposition striker this time will be the heavily motivated young man whose goal in the first leg has already made United firm favourites to progress.
Last April, Wayne Rooney missed the decisive Premier League meeting between the clubs because he had injured an ankle four days earlier in defeat by Bayern Munich. It would have serious consequences for his club and country, the first of which was that with a listless Dimitar Berbatov in attack, United lost at home to Chelsea, effectively handing over their League title.
The one benefit of Rooney's draconian suspension from yesterday's League match and the FA Cup semi-final is that this time he will be fresh and fit for Tuesday's game, with Sir Alex Ferguson determined to make the most of a bad outcome at the hands of the faceless men he believes comprise the Football Association's disciplinary department.
"The way I'm looking at it is to use it," Ferguson said. "We'll use it with our fans, they'll be great, and the players are showing their determination. They're not stupid, the players, but they can't understand it, nobody can understand it. I don't know these people at the FA, to be honest with you. You hear stories about some of them and I don't know how many full-timers they've got in there. Somebody said there is 14 full-time people in the disciplinary department. But you think to yourself, 14 full-time people, for what? I don't even know these people, to be honest with you."
After Rooney's wild verbal outburst at Upton Park last weekend, the FA were initially briefing that he had broken no rule and that, bizarrely, it was more a matter for the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom. The belief at Old Trafford is that Lee Mason, the match referee, was then "leant on" to include the incident in his report, allowing a formal investigation and charge.
The one person with United connections who saw it all coming appeared to be Lady Cathy Ferguson. "When I came home on Saturday night my wife said, 'they'll do him'," her husband revealed. "I said, 'don't be stupid, they can't do him for celebrating'." Not for the first time the manager's wife, who was instrumental in persuading him not to retire as planned in 2002, had seen things most clearly.
Lady F's views on preventing Chelsea from overloading the midfield to positive effect last Wednesday are not known, but she presumably advised dropping Rooney a bit deeper and telling Park Ji-sung to push in from the left flank to assist a rejuvenated Michael Carrick and the ageless Ryan Giggs.
Park, the South Korean dubbed Ji-Unsung Hero on one message board last week, is often favoured for this sort of game, all the more so when Darren Fletcher's comparable energy is unavailable. With a stomach virus continuing to rule out the Scot, Park and the fit-again Anderson would seem more likely to have a role on Tuesday than Paul Scholes, who is suddenly not wearing as well as his near-contemporary Giggs and remains a liability with continental referees because of his tackling.
Despite Rooney's goal, United will set out to win again on the night, thus avoiding the sort of tension that beset them in the last round when Marseille scored an away goal with eight minutes remaining. Chelsea, as Frank Lampard said, must aim to score first and take the tie back to square one, their chances of doing so surely being enhanced by swallowing hard and playing Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka instead of Fernando Torres.
The look on Drogba's face in the first leg when he was taken off instead of Torres – as all logic demanded – was priceless. Of course, the £50m striker may yet come good, but for the moment he looks like a vanity purchase who, partly by disrupting Chelsea's 4-3-3 system, has handicapped the quest for the very trophy he was bought to win.
Manchester United v Chelsea is on Sky Sports 2 on Tuesday, kick-off 7.45pm
How the players see the second leg...
"It's great to be back playing, these games will define our season. Fingers crossed we have a good end to the season. People look at this team and don't think it's as good as past teams, but this team has a lot of good players."
"We did it there last year. It's a very big pitch and you get the chance to counter-attack. It'll be a completely different game. If we score early, then it's game on. That's the mindset we have to take."
"We maybe haven't played with the flair we've shown in the past but being resilient is a great quality to have. We have shown that all season and I think probably since the turn of the year we have played some good stuff."
Steve TongueReuse content