Chelsea's Morata deals blow to United title bid
By Peter Hall
REUTERS - Alvaro Morata's second-half header secured Chelsea a 1-0 win over Manchester United in a compelling Premier League clash on Sunday as Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge ended in defeat.
Morata's brilliantly-taken header in the 55th minute was the difference on another frustrating trip to London for United, with six of their last seven away defeats coming in the capital.
United pressed for an equaliser, with Mourinho throwing all his attacking options on from the bench, but they did not test Thibaut Courtois enough in the Chelsea goal, mustering just two shot on target in the whole match.
"We played with great energy, passion and enthusiasm. There were a lot of positive things. The desire from my players, the fight and will to help each other," said relieved Chelsea manager Antonio Conte after a tough week.
Chelsea stay fourth on 22 points, the win breathing life into their hopes of retaining the title. Conte’s men are within a point of local rivals Tottenham Hotspur and second-placed United, who trail Manchester City by eight points.
The gap at the top of the table is the biggest after 11 games in Premier League history.
Conte left Brazil international Davis Luiz out of the squad and dropped Antonio Rudiger to the bench after some awful defending in Chelsea's 3-0 defeat at AS Roma in the Champions League in midweek with Andreas Christensen coming into the side.
United started well but Chelsea had the ball in the net first, only for referee Anthony Taylor to rule it out, with Morata adjudged to have fouled defender Phil Jones.
Both goalkeepers were kept busy. Courtois was forced to make his first stop after 16 minutes, beating away Romelu Lukaku’s strike, before United counterpart David De Gea spectacularly kept out Tiemoue Bakayoko’s fierce effort from distance.
After an entertaining first half that produced 15 shots at goal, the second period began sluggishly. However, just moments after Eden Hazard had missed a glorious chance, Morata stepped up to net what proved to be the winning goal.
Cesar Azpilicueta sent over a perfect cross for Morata who was afforded far too much space by the United defence, with the Spaniard guiding his header superbly past De Gea.
“The team that scores first probably wins because both teams are very good defensively, Mourinho said.
“We had the chances to equalise, which would have been a fair result. One goal, three points, congratulations.”
Mourinho shuffled his pack, and made unusually adventurous substitutions, but Chelsea remained largely untroubled.
Bakayoko could have doubled Chelsea’s advantage with 15 minutes left, but drilled the ball wide.
United’s best spell came in the dying embers of the match, with Marcus Rashford fizzing an effort past the post and Marouane Fellaini denied by a fine save from Courtois.
But Chelsea saw out the match to claim a victory that means Mourinho has not beaten any of the big six sides away from home in 11 attempts -- a run stretching back almost three years.
(Reporting by Pete Hall, Editing by Ken Ferris)