Manchester United, who are wrapped up in the race for a second place finish in the Premier League, welcomed rivals Chelsea to Old Trafford for a high-profile clash on Sunday afternoon. The Red Devils held a three point lead over the Blues, and headed into this game off the back of a shock 1-0 defeat to Newcastle last time out. Chelsea meanwhile dispatched West Brom 3-0 in their last league game, and were carrying some confidence into this game having drawn 1-1 with Barcelona in midweek.
Chelsea go close as they dominate early on
Despite being the away side, Chelsea came out of the blocks at full pelt in this game, and they utterly dominated the early exchanges. Long spells of possession in the first ten minutes allowed them to probe for openings in the Manchester United defence, and Alvaro Morata had a brilliant chance to grab the opener. A volleyed cross from Marcos Alonso found the striker in the six-yard box, but his subsequent strike ricocheted back out off the bar, and Eden Hazard’s follow-up effort went looping over the goal. The early chance was a stark warning sign for the home defence, but Jose Mourinho’s side responded fairly well to the initial onslaught.
The tempo of the play remained frantic even as the two sides settled into the game, but it was Chelsea who seemed to have a better foothold in the match. The Blues exploited the wide areas well, and both Alonso and Victor Moses had a lot of early success down the flanks. United meanwhile struggled to put together any sort of consistent passing moves, and they looked to have very few ideas going forward, meaning that Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku both cut isolated figures up front.
Willian grabs a crucial goal on the break
Mourinho’s men lacked any real urgency in attack, and surrendered a lot of the possession to Chelsea. They did however start to look slightly threatening on the break, and the pace of Sanchez and Anthony Martial allowed United to counter attack quickly. One such move almost led to the opening goal after some good work from Martial, and the French international found Sanchez open in the Chelsea box. The Chilean’s first touch set him up perfectly for a shot, but he scuffed his effort straight at Thibaut Courtois, squandering his side’s best opportunity of the game.
Interestingly it was actually the visitors who managed to break the deadlock with a counter attack, all starting from a United corner. Some brilliant link-up play from Hazard and Willian on the break allowed the latter to drive into the right hand side of the box, before drilling a ruthless finish past David De Gea. It was an emphatic finish at the end of a stunning counter attack, and handed Chelsea a vital lead just past the half-hour mark.
To their credit Manchester United responded brilliantly to the setback, and it didn’t take long for Mourinho’s side to get back into the game. Some sensational interplay between Sanchez, Martial and Lukaku on the edge of the Chelsea box sliced open the Blues’ defence, and the Belgian striker was the beneficiary as he finished simply and coolly past Courtois into the bottom left corner of the net. The equaliser opened the game up completely, with the visitors pushing furiously for a goal to give them the lead again, but half time came too soon, and the two sides went into the break level.
The game descends into a defensive stalemate
The second period began in a much cagier fashion to how the first ended, and neither side seemed to have control of the game in the early minutes after the break. Interestingly it was Manchester United who settled into the lion’s share of possession, but Chelsea who looked the more threatening on the break. Willian and Hazard in particular provided the bright sparks for the Blues, but they could never quite find Morata with their final ball.
United meanwhile struggled to create much penetration through the Chelsea back line, and their possession in the final third was often fruitless. In truth the defensive play of both sides was what was frustrating the respective attackers, and the solidity of the defensive units on show was highly impressive. There were few gaps of any sort in either back line, and the tempo of the game began to slow as the game progressed past the hour mark.
Chelsea were the side having the chances however, but most of their opportunities were speculative at best. One such long range effort from Danny Drinkwater was parried back into the danger zone by De Gea, but thankfully for the home crowd Antonio Valencia was there to clean up ahead of the onrushing Marcos Alonso.
Lingard grabs a late winner for United
In a game of few chances it fell to the strikers to be clinical enough to decide the game. Unfortunately Romelu Lukaku couldn’t quite find the back of the net with his second chance of the game, but he did force a good save out of Courtois with an acrobatic effort. The opportunity did seem to spark Manchester United back into life however, and they began to push for a winner as the clock ticked down.
The introduction of Jesse Lingard was what made the difference for the home side, and this time Lukaku turned provider to help his side grab a late lead. The striker curled in a sumptuous cross towards the winger, who directed a cushioned header into the bottom corner, leaving Courtois rooted to the spot. The goal lifted the Old Trafford faithful with just 15 minutes to go, but also forced Chelsea to go on the offensive.
For the final minutes it became a backs-to-the-wall defensive effort from United, and they coped well with the pressure piled on their back line by the visitors. Chelsea thought they had finally drawn level through Alvaro Morata with just moments left, but the striker was ruled offside, perhaps wrongly, by the linesman, cancelling out his neat driven finish. In the end that was to be their final effort, and Conte’s men didn’t have enough to cancel out Manchester United’s lead.
Having gone 0-1 down, the fact that Manchester United came back to win this game showed impressive character. The Red Devils have not looked particularly convincing in an attacking sense recently, but their two goals in this game were well-worked, and the three points were an important step towards securing a second place finish come the end of the season.
For Chelsea this was a frustrating result to play out, especially as they took the lead early on. The Blues have been a solid defensive side under Antonio Conte, so the fact that they couldn’t defend their lead will be disappointing for the Italian coach. This defeat will see the London side slip out of the top four, and they will face a tough battle to secure Champions League football.
Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Lindelof, Young; McTominay, Matic, Pogba; Martial (Lingard, 64’), Lukaku, Sanchez (Bailly, 81’)
Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Moses (Giroud, 78’), Alonso; Drinkwater (Fabregas, 81’), Kante; Willian, Hazard (Pedro, 73’), Morata
Goals: Willian (0-1, 32’), Lukaku (1-1, 39’), Lingard (2-1, 75’)
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Yellow Cards: Kante (30’), Valencia (68’), Matic (85’), Morata (88’)
Red Cards: None
Manchester United: De Gea 6; Valencia 6.5, Smalling 6, Lindelof 7, Young 6.5; McTominay 6.5, Matic 6.5, Pogba 6.5; Martial 6.5 (Lingard n/a), Lukaku 8.5, Sanchez 6 (Bailly n/a)
Chelsea: Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 6.5, Rudiger 6, Moses 6 (Giroud n/a), Alonso 6.5; Drinkwater 7 (Fabregas n/a), Kante 6.5; Willian 8, Hazard 6.5 (Pedro n/a), Morata 6.5
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