Manchester United moved back up into the Premier League’s second spot on Sunday, seeing off fourth-placed Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford. It wasn’t a dominant performance by any means, but Jesse Lingard’s late strike proved enough after Romelu Lukaku had cancelled out Willian’s first half opener.
The early omens were bleak, as Chelsea went within inches of breaking the deadlock after just five minutes. A raking pass from Eden Hazard was volleyed brilliantly across the box by Marcos Alonso, only to be poked against the crossbar by Álvaro Morata. He really should’ve scored.
Chelsea continued to dominate possession, and it took almost half an hour before United produced their first goalscoring chance. But when it finally came, it was a good one. A quick counter-attack culminated in a low cross from Anthony Martial, though the onrushing Alexis Sánchez took too long to pull the trigger, and prodded harmlessly at Thibaut Courtois.
Soon Chelsea’s pressure told. A smart one-two between Willian and Eden Hazard bought the Brazilian space in behind Ashley Young. He darted in off the right, and smashed a powerful shot inside David de Gea’s near post. The Spaniard should’ve perhaps done better, but United’s defending, as per usual, had left a lot to be desired.
It had been another tiresome performance from United, but they finally managed to turn on the style five minutes before the interval. Some slick passing in the final third sliced straight through the centre of the Blues’ bamboozled defence, and Lukaku slotted home from close range. José Mourinho’s halftime hairdryer was spared.
The late equaliser boosted United’s spirits, and they started the second half much better than they had the first. Chances remained at a premium, though the hosts were unfortunate not to take the lead when an acrobatic Lukaku effort was superbly tipped over by Courtois.
It took until the final quarter-hour, but the Reds did muster a second. An inch-perfect Lukaku cross found the unmarked substitute Lingard, and his glancing header rippled the back of Courtois’ net. There was little the keeper could do.
Mourinho swiftly introduced Eric Bailly in place of the lively Sánchez, and United prepared to sit back and soak up the pressure. They were successful in shutting up shop, recording a narrow but important victory as a result. The manner of the win is unlikely to silence Mourinho’s critics, but it should at least reduce their volume — if only for now.