Cantatas were ringing out of Old Trafford in adulation of Manchester United after Jesse Lingard’s second-half winner ensured the home side came out on top against a feisty Chelsea team on Sunday, 25th February.
In a result which put Antonio Conte’s men six points behind United, Chelsea came out fighting but can only have themselves to blame after Jose Mourinho sprung a second-half trap brilliantly with his number 14 to propel the Red Devils to second on the table and two ahead of their challengers Liverpool.
The tie was a must-win for both the teams – either of them having two Premier League defeats in their last three games. The Blues of London came out the better side and should’ve taken the lead early in the first-half when Morata’s first time effort, off a brilliant Marcos Alonso cross, saw him clatter the bar. The rebound pounced on by number 10 Eden Hazard was flicked over the bar by David De Gea.
United started with Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling in defence and initially, the boat seemed to be creaking. Chelsea were fluid and flexed their muscle. The Reds seemed to discombobulating but the Blues were swift in movement.
However, much against the run of play Alexis Sanchez somehow missed a sitter for Mourinho’s side after Martial’s neat lay-off found the Chilean in acres of space in the box. A measure of his confidence, the 29-year-old found it necessary to take a rather poor first touch, before prodding a shot straight at Courtois under pressure.
The 20-time champions would go on to regret it though, as a swift Chelsea corner form a succeeding United attack saw Hazard lay the ball up for Willian, who was left free by Scott McTominay, to move assuredly into the box and finish like lighting in action past a hapless David De Gea. It was nothing less than Chelsea deserved at that point.
United drew fire quickly and were level in a matter of minutes, seven to be exact. Lukaku received the ball from Martial after Sanchez’s needling pass into the box. The Belgian got onto the blind side of the covering Alonso and finished neatly past Courtois. That’s how the half ended, in a new logjam.
The second half began positively for Chelsea as Drinkwater nearly restored the lead with a dipping shot that David De Gea struggled to hold. The rebound had to be cleared by a cool Valencia ahead of Hazard.
The 62nd minute saw Anthony Martial replaced by Jesse Lingard, who went on to score the winner just 13 minutes later. Surprisingly, Eden Hazard was replaced as well, with him relegated to near ineffectiveness by McTominay, whose effort had made the Belgian a much-frustrated figure.
For the goal, United drew on the power of Lukaku, who seemed to pull up a gear in the second half, as he whipped in a delicious cross, finished with aplomb by the 25-year-old from a header that Courtois could do nothing about. Chelsea's three-man defence seemed to struggle in parts. Rudiger and Christensen we pulled apart with ease by Lukaku when he got in behind the line.
The last 15 minutes of the match petered out into nothingness with United with the possession. However, United were extremely flaky in that too. Lindelof seems yet to have a bone with settling into British football and a howler from him nearly cost United the lead. Antonio Valencia, however, held the rearguard firm with another wonderful and adept display at right-back, winning two important free-kicks towards the fag end of the game.
Ultimately, United’s midfield dominated Chelsea’s. On a day when he needed it, Mourinho’s summer signing Matic combined with the lubricity of the new kid-on-the-block, held the boat firm for the Red Devils. Most importantly it set the stage for Pogba to work his magic slightly higher up the pitch and despite the Frenchman not at his marauding best, he showed a glimpse of excellence in this performance for the Reds of Manchester.
Conte and Mourinho both had smiles on their faces in the middle of the game, yet it is ultimately one man who walked off the pitch with the full satisfaction of the smile emblazoned across his face. However, neither can be too pleased about the result bar the positions of their teams on the table, as a thrilling tie for bigger prizes must be fought for next season.