By Harry Ogilvie
- Ashley Young captained United to 2-0 victory
- Question marks were raised over Jose Mourinho’s team selection
After an average performance in midweek in the Europa League, United faced premier league leaders, Chelsea who had previously defeated Mourinho’s men 4-0 in October and 1-0 in March.
This may have concerned United fans prior to the game and even more so when the starting line-up was released.
The side featured new captain, Ashley Young as well as Marouane Fellaini and Matteo Darmian. These three players who have often been criticized by Manchester United fans this season were starting against a strong Chelsea team, led by Italian tactician, Antonio Conte.
There were a few surprising admissions from the starting team including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Luke Shaw.
Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney were two other players that couldn’t even make the squad.
Chelsea were also missing key players including Belgian goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois and Spanish wing-back, Marcos Alonso who has an impressive season so far for the Blues.
Mourinho Had A Game Plan
This was no excuse however for their poor performance. United from the very beginning of the game were on top and made it very clear that they had a game plan that they were going to stick to no questions asked.
This game plan worked splendidly when Rashford put United ahead in the seventh minute after an exquisite through ball from Ander Herrera. During the build up to the goal when Herrera won possession of the ball, many suspected that he used his hand to win it.
Appeals were waved away however, allowing Herrera to move forward with the ball and play a perfect pass through to Rashford who applied a flawless finish, leaving Begovic, Courtois’s replacement to pick the ball out the net.
United continued to put pressure on Chelsea forcing them to play many wayward passes, as well as stopping tricky Belgian playmaker, Eden Hazard and ex-Atletico star, Diego Costa.
This led to Chelsea looking very dazed and finding United extremely difficult to break down.
The teams went in at half time with Mourinho’s side 1-0 up and firmly in control of the play. The Portuguese looked to have pulled off a tactical masterclass over his former employers particularly with his starting team and style of play.
This deceived a Chelsea side that started the game four points clear at the top of the league.
Perfect Start To The Second-Half
United started the second half in the same way they started the first with a goal.
The second goal came from a direct run at the opposition’s defence from Young leading to the ball falling to Ander Herrera whose shot deflected off the boot of Kurt Zouma and over a helpless Asmir Begovic.
Herrera’s overall performance was brilliant, almost perfect. He provided a superb assist for Rashford’s goal, scored one himself and kept Hazard very much at bay, not to mention the fact he outperformed the so-called midfield general, N’Golo Kante.
This all led to the 27 year old being given Sky’s man of the match award and receiving praise all over social media.
Every Player Deserves Praise
Every United player performed their roles and responsibilities inexplicably and probably all deserved a match rating of at least 8 out of 10.
The outstanding performances came from both goalscorers- Rashford and Herrera, along with surprise starters, Fellaini and Darmian. Jesse Lingard was also exceptional.
Rashford led the line with great desire and commitment, pressing the Chelsea backline non-stop and making piercing direct runs in behind their back three.
He took his goal well when the opportunity arose using his frightening pace to get past Luiz and make room to place the ball past Begovic.
Rashford’s partner in crime, Jesse Lingard also ran his socks off using his speed and tireless running to scare the Chelsea defence and pressurise them into making poor passes and rash decisions.
The Warrington-born man also used his intelligent movement to create space for himself and link play in the final third.
He showed exactly why Mourinho chose to start him over Mkhitaryan in such a big game.
Marouane Fellaini also performed with great guile and contributed to United’s control of the midfield alongside Herrera and Pogba.
He was constantly bringing the ball down on his chest and playing neat passes to his teammates. The Belgian international also helped to contain Kante and stop him from dominating the midfield as he normally does.
He made a few important challenges and put in overall, probably one of his most impressive performances in a united jersey.
Italian full back, Matteo Darmian has been criticised plenty during his time as a United player but his recent performance at right back against Sunderland and today’s at left back against Chelsea has shown his qualities and experience.
Darmian is defensively exceptional in most cases and today he again proved that.
The Manager’s View
When Mourinho was first asked about his team selection, he simply responded by saying “Maybe we didn’t rest. Maybe we just chose the team that we thought was the best team.”
This shows he still wants to compete in both the premier league and the Europa league by not necessarily resting player but picking the right players for the right games.
The gaffer also praised Rashford, saying “he played fantastically well.” He also believes Rashford’s early goal “gave the team more confidence and stability.” This suggests Jose believes the youngster’s performance was exceptional and important to the team’s overall game.
Mourinho also spoke about Herrera and the previous game in the F.A Cup which seen him get sent off. He said the “referee created a problem” in that game and believes “the team played in a similar way, but the difference was we had 11 players for 90 minutes.”
He continued to comment on the side’s performance saying “everybody fought really hard”. This was swiftly followed by a “special mention” for Bailly and Rojo “because they have played in every game, non-stop, since the injuries of Smalling and Jones”.
Jose was then asked about his side fighting in the premier league and the Europa League- “I cannot give up the Premier League. We have to try and if one day we are in the Europa League and in the Premier League the distance is too big, then we have to prioritise… But while it is still mathematically possible, we have to go with everything we have.”
Mourinho’s men may not move up the table after this result but they do continue to put pressure on the sides above them.
The result will also give his men and much needed confidence boost and a lift going into a crucial part of the season which sees them play the likes of City, Spurs and Arsenal, as well as competing in the Europa League.
The Reds next task is to get into the semi-final of the Europa League by overcoming Anderlecht in the second leg at Old Trafford. As Mourinho said United it is pivotal that his side continue to fight on both fronts.
This season could potentially be a very successful one if they can make top four and win the Europa League, on top of already winning the EFL Cup.
In Jose’s first season two pieces of silverware and finishing in the champion’s league spots would be very acceptable, maybe even impressive.
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