Manchester United provided a fine response to their Paris Saint-Germain defeat by beating Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge to secure a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
It was said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s so-called honeymoon period as United interim manager was ended by the 2-0 Champions League loss to PSG, but his team bounced back excellently – the Norwegian getting his tactics spot on despite the injury-enforced absences of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.
Although Chelsea initially looked the brighter of the two sides, United gradually improved and were good value for the lead when Ander Herrera nodded in from close range in the 31st minute, and Paul Pogba – provider for the opener – made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time.
In desperate need of a route back into the contest, Chelsea increased the intensity after half-time and generally controlled proceedings, but they could not find a way past the solid backline of a United side who find themselves two wins from the final.
Chelsea appeared to be shading an open contest during the early exchanges – Sergio Romero producing two saves in quick succession to keep David Luiz’s free-kick and Pedro’s volley out in the 11th minute.
But United got a foothold and took the lead just past the half-hour mark, as Herrera beat Kepa Arrizabalaga with a stooping header from Pogba’s sublime cross.
The visitors increased their lead just before half-time, as Pogba released Marcus Rashford up the right flank and then met the striker’s pinpoint right-wing delivery with a towering header.
Chelsea became more productive after the interval, though United’s defence thwarted them time and time again – Chris Smalling twice blocking efforts from Gonzalo Higuain.
Despite Chelsea’s dominance towards the end, chances just would not present themselves and United had little difficulty holding on.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 18, 2019
What does it mean? A commendable scalp for Solskjaer
Many with United allegiances were eager to temper expectations before kick-off, urging people to not overreact if the Red Devils suffered defeat and highlighting they had not won on any of their last nine visits to Stamford Bridge in all competitions. As it turned out, Solskjaer’s tactical setup, which included a rarely-seen midfield diamond, worked like a charm.
Terrier-like Herrera gets everywhere
While Herrera’s goal was certainly a big part of United’s win, it was only a part of his immense contribution. The Spaniard was neat on the ball and tireless without it, helping to nullify the creative talents of Chelsea’s midfield.
Kovacic offers little
With much of the action taking place in midfield, this was definitely a match there to be commanded in the centre. Mateo Kovacic saw a lot of the ball but did precious little with it, not creating any opportunities or having any shots.
Chelsea turn their attentions to the Europa League on Thursday, as they welcome Malmo to Stamford Bridge having beaten them 2-1 last week. United’s next outing sees them host rivals Liverpool in the Premier League.
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