clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Manchester United 2-0 Chelsea: Brilliant United beat the league leaders

New, comments

They may still win the league, but Chelsea were out-fought, out-thought and outplayed by Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Call it revenge. Call it a title race back on. Call it the long-awaited proof that Manchester United are becoming a Jose Mourinho team. Whatever you think it ultimately amounted to, Manchester United turned in their best performance of the season and beat the league leaders and champions elect Chelsea 2-0 at Old Trafford. Call it fun? It was definitely fun.

Although when the team sheet was announced, it looked as though we were going to be treated to 90 minutes of 'yeah, but the Europa League'. Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard up front? Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the bench? Ashley Young? We didn't know then, of course, that Jose Mourinho had got this one precisely and exactly correct.

The plan came to fruition after just seven minutes. Ander Herrera closed down Nemanja Matic and was gifted the ball via an extremely generous handball decision. As Chelsea paused, the Spaniard stroked a long pass along the ground through a gap in Chelsea's defence. The pass screwed round like a golf ball biting the green, right into Marcus Rashford's path, and the striker sped into space, took the ball wide, and clipped past Asmir Begovic.

If United taking the lead was slightly surprising, then more so was the fact that Chelsea failed to muster any kind of immediate response. With Ander Herrera keeping Eden Hazard quiet — just about legally, this time around — and Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo taking it in turns to wind Diego Costa up, United controlled the first half.

It turns out that pace up front is hugely annoying to play against. Rashford and Jesse Lingard may not be anybody's idea of an ideal front two, but they spent the first 45 minutes linking up neatly and stretching Chelsea's unsettled defence. Chelsea's only attempt came late, and was born as much of desperation as any true opportunity. Costa's shot from distance flew harmlessly wide.

United doubled their lead early in the second half, again thanks to Ander Herrera and a touch of fortune. After Marcus Rashford sent a free-kick over the penalty area and out the other side, Ashley Young recovered the ball, slipped the defence's attention, and drove into the box. He was tackled, but the ball ran to Ander Herrera on the edge of the box. The Spaniard's first time shot took a deflection, flew over Begovic, and Old Trafford erupted.

Here the managers began to earn their money. Conte abandoned his back five and introduced Cesc Fabregas and then Willian; Mourinho responded by withdrawing Lingard, bringing Michael Carrick into the midfield, and moving United's focus to the counter-attack. Rashford, now running for two, lashed one snapshot into the side netting, then wriggled his way past David Luiz only to be denied by Begovic.

As the last 15 minutes ticked round, Chelsea, inevitably and finally, began to take control of possession. But while United found themselves pushed deeper, their intensity and organisation remained, and the visitors couldn't turn territory into chances. David de Gea had some punching and catching to do, but not much in the way of saving.

It feels a little unfair to pick individuals from what was an all-round team performance, but note should go to Rashford for his finishing, and for his and Lingard's tireless running. To Ashley Young, who was brilliant at everything bar the shooting. And, finally, to man of the match Ander Herrera, who found the time to make one goal and score another, all with Eden Hazard in his pocket.