Manchester United have been as relentless over the course of the years as they were in the three hours of this Champions League quarter-final. It is Chelsea, winners of the Double last season, who allowed themselves to grind to a halt following that glory.

Chelsea have now been beaten home and away by opponents who will be confident about an encounter in the last four that will almost certainly see them face the German side Schalke.

Last season, Chelsea won each Premier League encounter with United, but they have since become diminished and, in practice, have no hope of a trophy this year. They are reduced in stature and also saw their numbers cut here when the midfielder Ramires, already booked, was sent off with a second yellow card after he had fouled Nani 20 minutes from the end.

As that episode showed, Chelsea have been stripped of their judiciousness. The manager, Carlo Ancelotti, should be appreciated for what he did 12 months ago, but is at least as likely now to get the sack.

None of that will have weighed on the minds of an Old Trafford crowd that has witnessed Sir Alex Ferguson reassert his command so swiftly. He has been astute as ever, introducing new faces while still tapping the talent of some senior footballers. There is, of course, no sentiment and Paul Scholes, for example, remained on the bench here, just as he had at Stamford Bridge.

Ancelotti has not had the means to dictate events and some issues still gnaw at Chelsea. The Italian took off Fernando Torres at the interval after a first goal for the team had again eluded the Spaniard. It was his replacement, the 33-year-old Didier Drogba, who scored to tie this match at 1-1.

Drogba did so within moments of Ramires's dismissal by advancing on to a Michael Essien pass and finishing with force and technique. All the same, nothing could suppress Manchester United for long. Almost immediately, Park Ji-sung was in an abundance of space to restore his side's lead in the game. The South Korean had been picked out by the outstanding figure in this contest.

Ryan Giggs dominated by showing not only the know-how of a 37-year-old but also the sort of zest that ought by rights to be the exclusive property of colts just making their entry into the sport. It is very hard to think that limited time remains for the Welshman in football, even though the plain facts of physiology mean that, before too long, time will run out even on him.

An evening such as this will, all the same, keep him safe from melancholy. Gloom, on the other hand, may well be engulfing Torres, since he seemed to have lost even the hope that something must come his way in the goalmouth. He is far from being above criticism but the reshaping of Chelsea will demand more invention – no matter who happens to be in the thick of the attacks.

The verve was largely United's. Indeed Chelsea were very nearly behind after 19 minutes. Javier Hernández was ruled offside by a fraction as headed in a splendid cross by Wayne Rooney when the Mexican, in effect, was barely leaning beyond his marker. The disquiet of Chelsea was apparent in three bookings while United started to take a hold of events.

Ferguson's team recorded the opener in the 43rd minute to establish a 2-0 lead on aggregate. Giggs linked with John O'Shea and took the Irishman's sharp pass to angle the ball towards the far post where Hernández waited to score. The attacker is the embodiment of the perceptiveness with which Ferguson has reinforced his squad.

There was no scope left for etiquette on Ancelotti's part and Torres was withdrawn. The Spaniard, as usual, suffered to some degree because creativity has been leaking out of the Chelsea line-up and the sheer force of Drogba did indeed make more of a dent, but the verdict of the manager also confirmed that it is difficult these days to strike the right balance.

As a veteran, the Ivorian, after all, ought not to be viewed as a key performer. United, in any case, were intent on discouraging any notion of a revival by these opponents. With 57 minutes gone, the Chelsea substitute did put a low drive wide from distance as if to confirm to Ferguson's men that they could not pause in their efforts to deter the Stamford Bridge side.

With an hour gone, Edwin van der Sar had to be alert as he moved to his right and turned away Drogba's attempt from a set piece. All the same, it was Chelsea who needed to achieve something spectacular. Ancelotti could not be passive either and Salomon Kalou took over from Nicolas Anelka after an hour.

Chelsea sought to push downfield but the kind of episode that saw Alex head wide from a corner did not unnerve the opposition greatly and Petr Cech was still the more heavily involved of the goalkeepers. The desperation was shown most vividly in the red card that ended Ramires's night and Chelsea's already dwindling hopes.

• This article was amended on 13 April 2011. The original said that Wayne Rooney was ruled offside by a fraction as headed in a splendid cross by Javier Hernández when the Englishman, in effect, was barely leaning beyond his marker. This has been corrected.