Van Nistelrooy shows selfless streak to lead by example

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The Dutchman was the first United player to put his head above the parapet in support of his vitriolic captain last week and will now turn his defence to his own honour after being labelled a cheat and a coward by Patrick Vieira. It is a cause that could end in court, with the 29-year-old said to be considering legal action against the former Arsenal captain for the comments in his forthcoming autobiography, although having laid bare the deficiencies of United's current style of play after the defeat by Lille, he would be unlikely to succeed in an action over Vieira's assessment that he is "always moaning and whinging".

Yet by leading from the front in United's demonstration of commitment against Chelsea, and not purely as a result of retaining the captaincy despite the availability of Paul Scholes, he continued to show the resilience his team have desperately needed to escape the trauma of their recent malaise.

Although he presented a bleak portrait of the club, there was a selflessness to Van Nistelrooy's honest appraisal in Paris as he stressed how he accepts his altered workload without complaint and will not be seeking a move elsewhere. That attitude was reinforced here, with a performance to contradict the notion of a striker existing only for goals. "A magnificent captain's performance," said his manager.

United struggled to complement their rediscovered tenacity with the delivery required. Cristiano Ronaldo succeeded only in hitting the first blue shirt with three attempted crosses from the left in the first half to leave his captain aghast inside the area, while too many inaccurate high balls enabled John Terry to dominate the skies with customary authority. Such meagre rations supported his view on the amount of chances United create these days but, again, there was no complaint, merely confirmation of his intention to get his hands dirty in the search for a solution.

Van Nistelrooy was regularly the deepest United forward on the pitch and made the point of leaving his mark on both Michael Essien and Claude Makelele when he entered their midfield domain.

The United that Van Nistelrooy joined in 2001 would have had to have been at their exhilarating best to give him the "five or six chances I used to get" against this Chelsea defence and he sank to his knees in the 54th minute when he blazed his only opportunity of the game high into the Stretford End.

Although Van Nistelrooy will take no pride in that particular finish, his contribution to his first outstanding victory as United captain offers a reservoir of consolation.