The Morecambe and Wise standard "Bring Me Sunshine" was playing over the PA system as Roy Keane, Gary Neville and the rest of Manchester United's players made their morose exit from the pitch. There was nothing to smile about in the United camp after a defeat which allowed Chelsea to skip past them to the top of the Premiership and, more importantly, suggested the possibility that they might stay there.
For all the pressure the champions exerted in the second half after an opening period when Chelsea had threatened at times to overrun them, the result never looked in doubt.
The appearance before the match of England's rugby union coach, Clive Woodward, and the No 8, Lawrence Dallaglio, provided a handsomely applauded reminder of the crucial virtues required for sporting success. England's victory Down Under was bedded in a confidence that permeated every player, and although Chelsea have a long way to go in meeting their high aspirations, this performance offered evidence that they have a similar sense of conviction.
For all the urgency of Keane, and the energetic inroads made by Ryan Giggs from an unfamiliar position on the right, United looked, by the end, like a team that was less than the sum of its parts. With Ruud van Nistelrooy and Diego Forlan kept in check by John Terry and William Gallas - overseeing a sixth successive clean sheet - the visitors became increasingly frustrated.
Until the second-half arrival of the substitutes Kleberson and Cristiano Ronaldo, United's midfield looked mundane, and although the new arrivals added touches of the kind of quality one has come to expect of this team, they were unable to link up sufficiently well with their despairing forward partnership.
Increasingly, it was Chelsea - Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele operating with assurance at the heart of things - who provided the kind of fluency and flourish we have seen so often from Sir Alex Ferguson's team. "It was a great result for us against the champions," Ranieri said. "We are now thinking about the title." But the Chelsea manager remained cautious about the significance of this victory. "I am very confident," he said. "I say, OK, good performance, good character, everything was fantastic. But to be like Arsenal and Manchester United we must keep a little bit more of the ball in the second half."
Ranieri added that he had brought Damien Duff and Jesper Gronkjaer on in the second half to counter United's efforts to get at his team via the flanks. "But we suffered still," he said, "because Manchester are Manchester." By way of mitigation, Ranieri made the point that all of his players had been involved in Champions' League action in mid-week, something which had occupied "only five or six" of the United players.
Asked what his feelings were about leading the Premiership, the Italian responded: "Nothing. We intend to work hard because nothing is done. I know only this way: work, work, work." He acknowledged the outstanding part played by Lampard, but reserved his warmest praise for the midfielder who sits like a spider on the edge of Chelsea's defensive web. "Makelele is a great, great player," he said. "He gives us a lot of calm, and also ... geometry."
There is still much for Chelsea to prove, but on this evidence the new leaders are playing all the angles. Denying them the prize they seek will test the resources and the spirit of their two closest rivals.
Ferguson was predictably dissatisfied with the referee Alan Wiley's decision over the penalty for Keane's challenge on Joe Cole. "The players were very disappointed with the decision," Ferguson said. "Cole was going away from goal."Reuse content