Manchester United produced arguably their best performance of the season to damage Chelsea’s title charge with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford on Sunday.
United boss Jose Mourinho made the controversial decision to bench his star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and in-form winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan before kick-off and handed the captain’s armband to bit-part player Ashley Young, putting the omissions down to fatigue following Thursday’s Europa League tie at Anderlecht.
Although the line-up drew no shortage of raised eyebrows, it soon became apparent that Mourinho had his tactics spot on, United’s pacey formation quicker to the ball and forcing Chelsea into errors.
United’s opener set the tone for the match, Ander Herrera gaining the rub of the green as the ball bounced off his hand before feeding Marcus Rashford, who slotted past Asmir Begovic from an acute angle.
Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on April 16, 2017 in Manchester, England
Image credit: Getty Images
The excellent Herrera, who man-marked Eden Hazard for much of the match, added a second shortly after half-time after his powerful shot deflected off the heel of Kurt Zouma, a late replacement for the unwell Marcos Alonso.
Victory for United marked a first win over Chelsea since 2012 and a first for Jose Mourinho over his former club, the result leaving Chelsea just four points clear of chasing Tottenham Hotspur with six matches remaining. Manchester United move into fifth, four points behind neighbours City but with a game in hand.
Who needs Zlatan and Mkhitaryan? The starting line-up drew tweets of exasperation and frustration from United fans, but this result and particularly performance means that only a fool should criticise a manager who has done this so many times before.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Ander Herrera (Manchester United): On any other day, Marcus Rashford would have got the nod, but Herrera not only marked Eden Hazard out of the game, he also had a positive creative influence in the middle of the park and scored the second via a deflection. A superb performance.
Chelsea: Begovic 6; Azpilicueta 6, David Luiz 6, Cahill 6; Moses 6, Kante 6, Matic 5, Zouma 5; Pedro 6, Diego Costa 5, Hazard 6. Subs: Fabregas 6, Willian 6, Loftus-Cheek 6.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho Action
Image credit: Reuters
7’ – GOAL! Manchester United 1-0 Chelsea: Herrera feeds Rashford after United break quickly. Begovic narrows the angle but the striker’s finish is assured, slotting it inside the far post.
43’ – UNITED CLOSE! Great work from Lingard and Rashford and his cross is headed just over his own bar by Cahill!
49’ – GOAL! Manchester United 2-0 Chelsea: It’s a big deflection from Herrera’s effort, fizzed in at goal following the corner after good play from Young. Looks like it clipped Zouma’s heel.
52’ – UNITED CLOSE! Rashford sets up Lingard and it could easily be three but he sidefoots over the bar. Chelsea all over the place.
63’ – RASHFORD CLOSE! Carrick plays in Rashford, who hits it first time and it ripples the side netting!
Chelsea have lost five PL matches this season. The last two PL champions lost only three fixtures each in their title-winning campaigns (Chelsea in 2014/15 and Leicester City in 2015/16). Manchester City (6 in 2013/14) were the last PL champions to lose more than three matches.
Manchester United are unbeaten in 22 PL matches (W12-D10), since the 4-0 defeat in this reverse fixture on 23 October. It is the longest current league unbeaten run in the top five European leagues (Monaco, PSG on 14). They have had only one longer PL unbeaten run within a single season - 24 in 2010/11.
Chelsea lose a competitive fixture outside of the capital for the first time since the 3-2 PL defeat at Sunderland on 7 May 2016. All five of their losses in all competitions this season prior to today had come in London.
Ander Herrera scores his 10th PL goal, becoming the second Spaniard to reach double figures in scoring for Manchester United in the Premier League, after Juan Mata (27).
Marcus Rashford scores his 10th Premier League. He is the third teenager to reach double figures for Manchester United in the Premier League, after Wayne Rooney (15) and Ryan Giggs (12).