By Harry Ogilvie
- Game changing decision sees Herrera sent off
- Kante pops up to score winner in 51st minute
Manchester United faced Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tonight in a potentially memorable FA Cup Quarter-Final tie after a rather dull draw against Rostov in the Europa League.
This was one of both Chelsea and United’s biggest games of the season so far and a promising match-up for the neutral to watch.
Once again Mourinho surprised many with his line-up. Starting Rashford up front after doubts about his health and reports saying he was ill, as well as starting Young and Darmian.
Manchester United had a depleted squad without Martial, Rooney and of course, the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Martial was allegedly injured and Wayne Rooney hurt in training after a 50/50 challenge with Phil Jones. The most noteworthy available absence from the starting XI was Ivorian centre back Eric Bailly, who was left on the bench in favour of Smalling, Jones and Rojo in defence.
The Reds faced a strong Chelsea side who had played 12 games less than them, as United have had to compete in the Europa League, the FA Cup, the league and had already won the EFL Cup.
Whereas Chelsea only have the league and FA Cup to fight for, as well as competing in the EFL Cup earlier in the season.
This meant Chelsea would undoubtedly be fresher as Mourinho’s men had only just returned from Russia.
The game was a largely competitive and enthralling contest for what was the majority of the first half. This was up until the referee booked Ander Herrera for a second time 35 minutes into the tie.
His first foul was for apparently obstructing Hazard and the second was once again, for a foolish foul on the Belgian midfielder which many have described as harsh.
The decision to give the Spanish midfielder a second booking effectively ruined the meeting between two top premier league sides.
Mourinho showed clear disapproval when the red card was held up by sarcastically laughing and shaking his head.
Immediately after the questionable sending off of United’s number 21, Mkhitaryan was substituted for Marouane Fellaini in an attempt to deal with any long balls into United’s 18 yard box and provide an aerial threat when United were attacking.
Losing Herrera led to Chelsea finding space in attacking areas and being able to work the reds all over the pitch.
The Manchester United players left on the field held on to the 0-0 scoreline up until the 51st minute where Chelsea’s midfield engine, N’Golo Kante broke the deadlock.
This goal came from the former Leicester man finding space on the edge of the box after prolonged possession from Conte’s men.
Creditable Performers For United
Antonio Valencia who has been one of the team’s most consistent players this season again impressed after making several impressive tackles, constantly working hard and closing down, as well as upending the man who contributed to Herrera’s sending off.
Another player who deserves to walk away from this game with credit is Ashley Young.
He kept Victor Moses on a tight leash the majority of the game despite being a fringe player for the majority of the season.
The man showed desire and drive to constantly close down the Nigerian wing-back and support attacks when possible until he was replaced by Jesse Lingard.
Marcos Rojo is another who should be applauded for his efforts. For the majority of the game he nullified Chelsea’s main striking threat- Diego Costa.
He made several superb last ditch tackles and followed Chelsea’s key man all around the pitch.
These three men encapsulate exactly what it means to play for Manchester United.
On a day that lacked very few positives, these three provided a ray of light in what was largely a disappointing game.
The fans also deserve a mention. They sung from the first whistle to the last. The Best Fans in the World.
It was a shame to see Mkhitaryan removed so early on in the game but an understandable substitution from the Portuguese manager.
We lacked composure and creativity in the final third towards the end of the game when we were in search of an equalizer.
It was also sad to see Pogba suffer following Herrera’s sending off as he was unable to get forward and create chances due to his defensive responsibilities.
However, credit to Mourinho for his impressive game plan and his ability to get the team to adhere to it in the opening half hour.
The Manager’s View
Jose Mourinho was quick to avoid commenting on the Herrera red card by simply saying “I don’t speak about the referees, I’m really proud of my players and really proud of the Manchester United fans.”
He followed this up by saying “now, we have to rest” obviously before the important second leg match against FC Rostov.
The two time Champions league winning manager then went on to defend the performance of French midfielder, Paul Pogba.
Jose said in defence of the world record signing “the specialists will say a lot about him and it comes from envy, they will never earn 10% of what he does”.
Ultimately, United put in the best possible performance against the league leaders with only 10 men.
They successfully avoided a hammering and created the odd chance when possible. Despite an unfortunate result, I have no doubt Jose will have his men fit and firing for the return leg against Rostov.
The unbelievable United support will no doubt be in fine voice again on Thursday. Hopefully, the combination of the clubs unbelievable fans and Mourinho’s magic, his men will safely make it through to the Europa League Quarter Final.