AFTER all the hysterical criticism of Wayne Rooney over the past few days Chelsea felt the full force of Manchester United’s genious No.10 who was at his imperious best in tonight’s titanic Champions League quarter-final first leg at Stamford Bridge.

The game was decided by a dream goal that represented everything great about the beautiful game when Michael Carrick found Ryan Giggs with the accuracy of a quarter-back and the Welsh wizard set up Rooney with an outstanding first touch and inch perfect lay-off that was steered home with inch-perfect precision.

But there was a lot more about this majestic performance than a golden strike that gave United the precious away goal and the victory they craved. After a run of four straight defeats on the ground where the Reds have every right to believe results went against because of poor refereeing decisions, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men dug deep to deliver a display of true grit and pure quality.

How ironic that Chelsea ended the night blaming the Spanish referee for refusing to award a debatable penalty in the dying second when Patrice Evra challenged Ramires.

The difference this time – regardless of whether or not referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco got this one right – is that  the best team on the night won the match, unlike the previous contests that went against a dominant United team when Chelsea received blatant assistance from errors by the match officials.

From start to finish tonight Manchester United were a cut above a disjointed Chelsea side that inexplicably opted for Fernando Torres at the expense of the Didier Drogba-Nicolas Anelka partnership that is clearly heir best partnership.

Torres started with Drogba and finished alongside Anelka. He hit the post and saw a header denied by a great save from Edwin Van Der Saar. But in the end the Spaniard’s shabby attempt to con a penalty out of the referee when he clearly dived in he box probably counted against Chelsea when Ramires’ late appeal for a spot kick was a borderline decision that for once went against the home side.

No one is foolish enough to believe other than this titanic struggle is still all to play for in the second leg. But United are now the favorites for next Tuesday’s conclusion at The Theatre of Dreams. And as Fergie underlined tonight it’s the aura of Old Trafford and what will be a fever pitch atmosphere created by United’s fans that will count just as much as that first leg lead.