Manchester United produced what seems to be their best performance under Jose Mourinho to defeat the champions-elect Chelsea, and quite possibly have blown open the Premier League title race.
Chelsea’s lead remains at four points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur with the two sides meeting each other in the FA Cup semi-finals next Saturday in which, psychologically, could prove an important fixture with just six matches to play.
Jose Mourinho will be so much delighted with this victory having been humiliated by his former club in the league earlier this season and been knocked out of the FA Cup by them also.
This was classic Mourinho as United claimed their first win over Chelsea in 13 matches and did so with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the bench, rested, although he came on with 10 minutes to go. So much for Mourinho’s complaints of tiredness and fixture congestion. He did a number on Chelsea, forensically nullifying them and probing their weaknesses.
Without Ibrahimovic there was more pace to United’s attack with Marcus Rashford outstanding as was Ander Herrera, detailed to man-mark Eden Hazard and Marcos Rojo who powerfully dealt with Diego Costa. Tactically Mourinho got it spot-on as he nullified Chelsea’s threat although there was a huge slice of fortune with his side’s opening goal. It should not have stood.
Rashford’s strike was superbly executed but there was a clear hand-ball by Herrera in the build-up as he blocked Nemanja Matic’s pass with his outstretched arm. Allowed to play on by referee Bobby Madley he then played a precise pass behind David Luiz for Rashford to run onto before he clipped his shot across Asmir Begovic and into the net.
Begovic was playing because of an ankle injury sustained by Thibaut Courtois, with Chelsea also losing Marcos Alonso in the warm-up. The left wing-back had been suffering from illness and was replaced by Kurt Zouma.
Maybe it was the changes but, more evidently, it was United’s aggression and Mourinho’s tactics that unsettled Chelsea.
There was also a running battle between Costa and the United centre-halves which was sparked by the striker after he shoved Eric Bailly over. There was more than one tangle between Costa and Rojo and a couple of bright moments involving Rashford, with Begovic cutting out one cross as Jesse Lingard waited to pounce and then another being intercepted by Gary Cahill and landing on the roof of the net.
Early in the second-half United doubled their advantage and it was a sloppy goal for Chelsea to concede with Ashley Young’s cross cut out by Luiz. The ball cannoned to Kante who lost possession to Young who then worked his way into the penalty area only for Zouma to challenge. He poked the ball to Herrera whose drive deflected up off Kante to wrong-foot Begovic and spin into the goal.
Strangely Cahill spent time picking Lingard off the turf in the build-up rather than concerning himself with the play. It was poor all round from Chelsea.
Their desperation grew but it was United who went close to increasing their advantage after another impressive run by Rashford ended in a fine save by Begovic. Changes were made and Chelsea, by now, were playing with Pedro, who poked one chance wide on the stretch. Costa, Hazard and substitute Willian all in forward positions as they chased the game without success. United had their win; Mourinho made his point and his name rang around Old Trafford.