How Rio proved he's still the man for United by shackling Torres

It was if he had never been away.

Rio Ferdinand returned for Manchester United for the first time in two months last night with a performance of such class, elegance and commitment that rendered all the more absurd Fabio Capello's decision to take the England captaincy away from him.

Persistent injuries may have made him a bit-part player for club and country over the past two seasons but, as he proved at Stamford Bridge last night, when Ferdinand is fully fit he remains arguably the most accomplished centre-back in the country.

And with Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic back in tandem at the heart of United's defence, Sir Alex Ferguson's side have the best central defensive pairings in Europe, their solidity and understanding the foundation which allows their flair players to flourish.

A groin problem, followed by a calf injury in the warm-up at Wolves on February 5, had restricted Ferdinand to just one appearance in United's last 15 games, a hostage to his ailing body for the second successive season.

Relentless first-team football since the age of 17 had finally caught up with Ferdinand, now 32, a crippling back problem and knee ligament damage - which ruled him out of last year's World Cup - compounding his fitness issues which led to Capello handing the England captain's armband back to John Terry.

But as Chelsea's fans taunted Ferdinand with chants of 'There's only one England captain' last night, Ferdinand had the last laugh, his imperious display at the back going a long way to giving United the edge at the halfway stage of this compelling tie.

Ferdinand, like Vidic, has had his nightmare days against Fernando Torres, but Chelsea's £50million signing was once again a peripheral figure, although this time it had more to do with the way United's central defensive duo shackled him, rather than his own shortcomings.

With next week's decisive second leg against Chelsea at Old Trafford, the title race run-in and an FA Cup semi-final showdown with Manchester City on Saturday week, Ferdinand's return to action could not have been better timed for United.

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williamhill.com

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