It wasn’t a repeat of the 4-0 drubbing in August, but Manchester United officially completed the league double over Chelsea on Monday evening with a commanding 2-0 win. Goals from Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire sealed the victory for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men and helped them remain in contention for a top-four finish.
It was a match filled with plenty of controversy. But in a must-win situation, the Red Devils proved why they were the better team against a struggling Blues side. Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s primetime victory against Chelsea.
Martial delivers when United needed him most
In Marcus Rashford’s absence, Anthony Martial has been identified as the man to find the back of the net on behalf of United. As of late, the Frenchman has been fairly inconsistent and even up until his opening goal, was playing well below expectations. However, that all appeared to change just before the interval as he capitalized off a lovely cross by Aaron Wan-Bissaka to open the scoring for the visitors.
Beautiful cross— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 17, 2020
Manchester United strike first! pic.twitter.com/BejEhXQi8h
Prime Martial also emerged late in the second half, when Chelsea looked every bit frustrated being on the receiving end of no-calls and looking even more exhausted attempting to cut the lead by any means possible. Given his performance since breaking both the deadlock and United’s dry spell, it’s quite a relief to fans that Tony Martial is back to his playing potential and looking capable of leading United back into the Champions League.
VAR favors the Reds
For 90 minutes, United received the Liverpool treatment. Slighted by the video referees in the past, United’s victory — and clean sheet — can be credited to VAR referee Chris Kavanagh for denying Frank Lampard’s men two goals to salvage a draw. The first came on a set piece, which of course United failed to defend. Under further review, both Kavanagh and Anthony Taylor determined that there was a push on defender Brandon Williams by Cesar Azpilicueta. The replay did show that Azpilicueta was originally pushed by Fred however, so Azpilicueta’s two-handed shove against the teenage Williams was perhaps unintentional.
Chelsea scores, but, it's overturned because of a push. pic.twitter.com/UfYC6h5S4V— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 17, 2020
The second came in the final third of the match when substitute Olivier Giroud quickly snuck one past David de Gea, only for the Frenchman to be ruled slightly (but, correctly) offside in the run-up to the goal.
Besides those two calls, even more went United’s way. Michy Batshuayi was left bemused in the first half when United skipper — and second half goal-scorer — Harry Maguire went unpunished for sticking his boot into the midriff of the Chelsea striker. While Maguire claimed to only be protecting himself, most in the ground were outraged that VAR did not deem the contact to be worthy of a red card.
Fernandes already making a difference
United’s midfielders have endured their fair share of criticism this campaign, but their performance Monday night at Stamford Bridge gave supporters plenty to smile about. Fred isn’t the strongest midfielder in the league, but the Brazilian has stepped up to be a leader for his club as his more talented teammates sustain extended injury spells. The winter signing of Bruno Fernandes has also breathed new life in the middle, and the 25-year-old’s efficiency on Monday prove just how necessary orchestrating his move to Old Transfer was for everyone involved.
Bruno Fernandes had a direct hand in 5/9 of Manchester United’s shots vs. Chelsea:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 17, 2020
• 3 created
• 2 taken
Already becoming the main man. pic.twitter.com/AZoVNUeyfE
Not to mention, the £60m man was directly involved in United’s second goal, firing a near-perfect corner kick for Maguire to easily head past Willy Caballero. Considering United have done more conceding than scoring on corners this season, to finally have the skipper open his Premier League goal account against a Big Six side on a lovely ball from his newest teammate was certainly a sight for sore eyes.
Manchester United have been fairly chastised over and over for not having enough creativity or a winning mentality since last hoisting the Premier League trophy in 2013. Given how Monday’s showing looked so clinical and full of artistry, Bruno Fernandes may just be the missing link to lead his new club into a more prosperous future.