MANCHESTER UNITED 2-CHELSEA 1 RED DEVILS BOSS CHELSEA
This was a game that United deserved to win. They deserved it because they responded better than Chelsea when push came to shove. They created the better chances in the second half and for the last hour were progressive while Chelsea, surprisingly, were running out of ideas.
Chelsea should and could have taken a draw. Alvaro Morata had a poor afternoon but he had the ball in the net with five minutes to go and was incorrectly ruled offside. So Antonio Conte and his players left Old Trafford with something to feel genuinely sore about. A bad day through and through.
But that wrong offside all takes nothing away from who deserved to win, Man United were better. After a poor start to the game they were just a little sharper and just a little bit more cohesive than Chelsea in key areas. Jose Mourinho also made better substitutions than Antonio Conte and one of them – Jesse Lingard for Anthony Martial – effectively won him the game.
Lingard heads in winner
So this was an afternoon for United to renew a little faith. Beating the big teams has always been a prerequisite at this club and here was a reminder that Mourinho remains a manager who knows how to do just that.
The mystery is why United cannot raise themselves to these levels more often. Too often United – and expensive players like Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez – are too passive in their play. They do not exude the authority that should come with their status, not to mention their ability.
Here, on this occasion, Lukaku was ultimately the difference. The much criticized Belgian scored one and made one and was dangerous throughout. Had he been playing for Chelsea, the result probably would have been different. Lukaku was clinical while Morata was not. Chelsea, with Eden Hazard also having a poor game, were blunt when they reached the edge of the United penalty area while at the other end United grew more dangerous as the afternoon went on.
Certainly, it looked very different at 1-0 to Chelsea. Conte’s team had started the brighter and Morata volleyed a cross from Marcos Alonso on to the crossbar in only the fourth minute. So when they took the lead after half an hour it looked as though they would take the game away from United.
It was a brilliantly taken goal from Willian, Chelsea’s player of the moment. The Brazilian with the electric turn of pace picked up the ball in his own half when Pogba inexcusably failed to challenge Victor Moses in the air and passed the ball to Hazard before racing up field.
Hazard’s return pass was superb and far too good for a United defence and midfield that found itself with too many players in the wrong positions. As Willian headed in to the penalty area, the angles seemed to be against him and it seemed briefly as though he may feed Morata to his left.
Moratta was left frustrated
Maybe that is what David de Gea thought, too, as the United goalkeeper seemed to be surprised when the shot arrived, with power, at his near post. It was through him before he could readjust and Chelsea had a lead that had been coming.
The following ten minutes turned out to be the most important of the game. United looked vulnerable and almost immediately there were half chances for Hazard and Alonso. Neither were taken and as Chelsea seemed reluctant to land a killer blow United responded with an equaliser.
Lukaku’s touch can fail him at times but also it can appear very good. Here, he outmuscled N’Golo Kante on the edge of the penalty area to lay the ball back to Sanchez and, when it came back to him 12 yards out via a nice pass from Martial, he controlled it well and placed his shot past Thibaut Courtois in to the corner.
The 22nd goal of Lukaku’s debut United season, it was his first against a team higher than ninth in the table. That is a statistic that will continue to work against him until he does this more regularly.
Nevertheless, it gave United a platform to work and from that moment on they had the confidence. Sanchez was once again disappointing but the Chilean did provide the cross from which Lukaku swivelled in mid-air to volley towards goal in the second half.
Courtois touched that one over but could do nothing with 15 minutes left.
Lukaku’s cross from the right probably should have been stopped at source and then the young defender Andreas Christensen got caught under the ball as Lingard headed in from eight yards. It was a poor goal to concede and summed up the way Chelsea’s afternoon had deteriorated.
Christensen, of course, was the player who erred when Lionel Messi equalised in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge last Tuesday. He may also have been tighter to Lukaku for the first goal so this is a time to question Conte’s wisdom in picking him ahead of Gary Cahill.
But mistakes from a young defender are not why Chelsea lost this game. For once, Mourinho’s United team found a way to impose themselves on an important match and take a result away from a big opponent.
another chance will come soon enough. Reds play Liverpool here in a fortnight.