EPL 2016/17: A tactical masterclass from Jose Mourinho helps Manchester United beat Chelsea
Manchester United stay in hunt for top four finish after an emphatic win over rivals Chelsea.
Manchester United ended their twelve match winless run against Chelsea on Sunday when they beat the Premier League leaders 2-0 at Old Trafford. Goals from young Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera helped Jose Mourinho overcome Chelsea for the first time as a Manchester United manager.
He lost both the previous matches against his previous employers, including a 4-0 drubbing in the reverse fixture earlier this season. On Sunday, however, he tactically got the better of Antonio Conte and outplayed Chelsea in every aspect.
Both sets of fan were shocked to see the respective lineups. Thibaut Courtois and Marcos Alonso both missed the game through injuries, and Asmir Begovic and Kurt Zouma took their places.
Many Manchester United fans, on the other hand, were thoroughly disappointed to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic benched for the first time in the Premier league. Zlatan, the top scorer for the Red Devils this season with 28 goals in all competitions, came on for the last 10 minutes of the match, while Ashley Young not only started the game but also captained his side.
Mourinho played a 3-5-2 formation with Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard up front, and right from the start the Manchester United players pressed high up the pitch and won possession in the opponents half multiple times. Moreover, the old-fashioned man-marking from them made passing difficult for the opponents. Rashford looked particularly threatening, making runs behind David Luiz and Gary Cahill. Lingard too took up great positions and troubled the Chelsea back-line.
His free role alongside the English striker was also a tactical masterclass from the United manager. The Manchester United wing-backs, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, worked hard and pegged back their counterparts inside the Chelsea half.
The Victor Moses that we have seen the whole season was missing at Old Trafford, failing to move up the pitch and making no impact in the game. For the first 60 odd minutes, Mourinho’s side bossed possession and played some cutting-edge football. The team looked vibrant and energetic in spite of playing a Europa League game on Thursday against Anderlecht.
This United team looked well-drilled; each player knew his role in the side and executed them perfectly. Ander Herrera was handed the most important duty of tracking Eden Hazard. He was sent-off in the FA cup quarter-final for incessantly fouling Hazard, but this time around he did his job perfectly well.
The former Athletic Bilbao midfielder got tight to the Belgian whenever he was on the ball thus preventing him from dictating the game. To add to this, he set up Rashford for the first goal and then scored the second himself to seal Chelsea’s fate; his all-round display resulted in him being awarded the Man of the Match award. The Spaniard has been an integral part of Mourinho’s side and has done a fantastic job in midfield, along with Paul Pogba.
Mourinho’s plan to play Marcus Rashford instead of Ibrahimovic seemed to some extent be a tactical move. With his pace and skill on the ball, he was more likely to cause the Chelsea defence more problems and a clever run behind David Luiz led to the first goal. He looked sharp throughout the match and created a lot of chances for himself and others as well.
The 19-year old striker has now managed to score in consecutive games after being without a goal since September 2016. Young was superb on the left wing, causing problems for Cesar Azpilicueta, and along with Valencia, he stretched the opposition defence, creating space in the final third for the attacking players.
Conte’s side failed to stamp their authority on the match and played the way Mourinho wanted them to. Chelsea seemed erratic with their passing and gave the ball away cheaply, inviting more pressure on themselves. With the wing-backs unable to use the full width of the pitch Chelsea’s attacking options were limited.
The attacking trio of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro were isolated and ineffective and were never once allowed to counter-attack during the whole match. The Italian manager tried to make a few attacking chances in the second half with the introduction of Willian and Cesc Fabregas but United were equal to the task.
Mourinho brought Michael Carrick on to ensure that the two goal lead was protected. Conte played 4-2-4 and went all guns blazing in attack during the last 15 minutes but his team failed to register a single shot on target in the entire match. Fabregas added some creativity to the midfield but it was not enough to break the United defence.
The Manchester United defenders looked solid and handled Costa with relative ease thanks to their midfielders Pogba, Herrera and Fellaini. Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly dealt with everything Chelsea had to offer and David De Gea did not have to make a single save. This is the 13th clean sheet for United this season and Mourinho is certainly looking to build his team around a strong defence.
This result is of great significance because Chelsea’s lead at the top of the table has been pruned to just four points. Tottenham Hotspur will pounce upon any further slip-up from the West Londoners. They are in great form, winning their last seven matches scoring 22 goals.
Conte will have to bounce back from this loss in order to ensure that they remain at the until the end of the season. The FA cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur on 22 April could be a crucial game in the context of the league. A victory over Spurs could lift the spirits of the Chelsea side while a defeat could further dampen their morale.
With this win the Red Devils extend their unbeaten run to 22 matches in the league. Jose Mourinho was evidently happy after beating the league leaders and was absolutely right in saying that they ‘controlled’ Chelsea.
Manchester United will be looking for a top four finish and the upcoming Manchester derby could be crucial in deciding the top four. Mourinho would also relish the Europa League title and automatic entry into the UEFA Champions League.