Thursday, June 1, 2023

United and Chelsea take final into extra-time (SN)

The first all-English final of the Champions League went into extra-time on Wednesday with Manchester United and Chelsea locked at 1-1 after 90 minutes.

United's early domination enabled them to take the lead from Cristiano Ronaldo's 26th-minute header for his eighth gola in the competition.

But after failing to take a couple of chances that might have killed the match, Sir Alex Ferguson's men were pegged back by Frank Lampard's equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

Chelsea went on to dominate after the break and might have claimed a late winner when Didier Drogba's 25-yard shot came back off the post.

With the exception of Park Ji-Sung's exclusion from United's match-day squad, there were no suprises in the personnel, although Ferguson did give United's shape an unexpected tweak.

With Owen Hargreaves deployed berth on the right side of midfield, Ronaldo started in the left-sided role that Park had been tipped to fill.

With Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez alongside each other in attack, Ferguson also departed from the lone-striker policy that has served United well in getting to the final, notably in the semi-final win over Barcelona.

Michael Essien's relative inexperience at right-back may have influenced Ferguson's deployment of Ronaldo on the left and Chelsea were given an early warning of their vulnerability on that flank when the winger sidestepped his marker with ease.

A fractionally overhit cross ensured Hargreaves was unable to connect at the far post but it was to be Essien's poor positioning that was to enable United to take the lead.

From a throw-in on the left, Wes Brown combined neatly with Scholes to escape from Lampard and the rightback was allowed to drift infield before curling a left-footed cross towards the back post. There, Ronaldo had peeled off a flat-footed Essien to give himself a free header for his 42nd goal of the season.

The goal every neutral and television director across the globe had hoped for had the desired effect on an encounter that had been threatening to degenerate into a turgid stalemate.

Chelsea might have equalised almost instantly, Ballack firing over from the edge of the area, and United were to enjoy an even greater let-off minutes later. Only an instinctive reflex save from Edwin van der Sar prevented Rio Ferdinand from heading into his own net as Ballack strained to reach Drogba's knockdown.

United hit back with Rooney sending Ronaldo clear on the left. The winger's cross was met by Tevez with a diving header that Petr Cech blocked at close range but could not hold.

John Terry scuffed the loose ball into the path of Michael Carrick but by the time he had driven it goalwards, Cech was on his feet and able to palm a poorly directed drive to safety.

United went close again three minutes from the break. Rooney's low cross from the right was cleverly directed into the space between Cech and his centrebacks and Tevez got a boot to it at full stretch but the ball spun wide of the target.

As the half drew to a close it was Chelsea who were in the ascendant but they still required a generous slice of luck to claim their equaliser.

Essien's shot was unleashed from sufficiently long range that it was unlikely to have troubled van der Sar.

But after deflecting off the boot of Nemanja Vidic, the ball rebounded off Ferdinand's back to leave Lampard with the simple task of tapping the ball past van der Sar from just outside the six yard box.

Ten minutes after the break, Florent Malouda sent Essien charging forward again. The Ghanaian's shot went high but it had set the tone for a phase of intense Chelsea pressure.

In quick succession, Vidic was forced to head over his own bar, Drogba did likewise from a Lampard corner and Ballack sent a 30-yard drive whistling past van der Sar's left-hand post.

United responded by pulling Hargreaves into the middle of midfield with Rooney dropping deep on the right.

Still Chelsea threatened however and Drogba, largely anonymous until then, almost conjured up a winner with 12 minutes left, his 25-yard drive coming back off the post with van der Sar well beaten.

Five minutes later, Tevez was only fractionally further away with a strike from similar range that represented United's first and only shot of the second period.


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