He may - or may not - have been tapped up. But he certainly was not tripped up.
He may - or may not - have been tapped up. But he certainly was not tripped up. Ashley Cole's dive inside three minutes set the tetchy, edgy, inevitable tone. As the Arsenal defender fell to the turf, clearly not having come remotely into contact with Roy Keane's foot, the first Manchester United player over to him was Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese teenager frantically waved his arm as if showing an invisible yellow card. The referee Graham Poll was unmoved.
But then the two players have history. Just 40 seconds into the game at Old Trafford last autumn Cole had clattered into Ronaldo, having earlier said "a hard tackle" was the best way to deal with his trickery. Although Cole could hardly be blamed for the ensuing nastiness, it did not help then and it did not help last night.
But then Sir Alex Ferguson did a clever thing. He made Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs switch flanks. It meant Cole could not negate the pace of the former and would face the guile of the latter instead. It also meant that Ronaldo's speed would be a test for Lauren. That both United wingers scored was vindication for their manager even if, until his goals, Ronaldo had cut a forlorn figure. For both, he was supplied by Giggs.
It also meant the anticipation that Cole and Ronaldo would renew their rivalry from earlier in the season or even when they featured for their countries in Lisbon last summer was unfulfilled.
Cole's commitment last night could hardly be questioned. And neither can, at 24, his burgeoning ability which, for the last year, has made him probably the best left-back in the world. Little wonder then that he wants an improved contract, even if his £27,000-a-week deal has two years to run. Chelsea's overtures may well be real but so is Arsenal's desire to keep him, even though he wants £70,000 pay parity with Thierry Henry.
Their manager Arsène Wenger nevertheless did not take kindly to the questioning beforehand over Cole's future - even if it came from Arsenal's in-house interviewer on the big screen. Not now and none of your business was the message in his eyes - even if the words he spoke were slightly more measured.
After Mikaël Silvestre's dismissal, Ronaldo was sacrificed. Cole stayed on and was finally given the licence to try to salvage the match for Arsenal having been shackled by Ferguson's tactics.Reuse content