Jose Mourinho guided Manchester United to a 2-0 win over his former side Chelsea at Old Trafford, effectively slowing their charge towards the Premier League title.
Goals from Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera gave Mourinho’s United a deserved victory to leave the Blues just four points clear of Tottenham at the top.
The result also kept United’s hopes of finishing in the top four alive.
Here, we look at five things we learned from the encounter.
UNITED SUFFOCATED CHELSEA
‘Lose to Chelsea and you can kiss any hopes of a top four finish goodbye.’ That would’ve been Jose Mourinho’s message to his players pre-game. United went into the encounter far more desperate for the win than their opponents and they played like it.
Everything from Paul Pogba’s remarkable recovery tackle on Diego Costa when Chelsea broke away on one occasion in the first half to Maroune Fellaini repeatedly barging blue shirts off the ball indicated that United were the more intense outfit.
Right from start, United didn’t allow Chelsea to settle, closing them down vigorously and forcing them into misplaced passes.
Chelsea completed just 64% of their passes in the opening 20 minutes.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 16, 2017
Man Utd giving them no room to breathe. pic.twitter.com/fERhPHi0gO
BACK-TRACKING DUO NULLIFY CHELSEA WINGERS
Ashley Young donned the armband and led United out of the tunnel at Old Trafford, a sight that most United fans would not have expected or likely to have taken much comfort in. However, the Englishman did a solid job on the left flank as did Jesse Lingard on the opposite side.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was left on the bench as the most industrious wingers took to the pitch and it paid off in a big way. Not only did they dart forward at every opportunity, but they religiously tracked back and cancelled out the threat posed by Eden Hazard and Pedro.
HEAT MAP: Jesse Lingard ran his socks off for Man Utd today before being substituted.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 16, 2017
Covered the attacking line. 🏃💨 pic.twitter.com/Abo05Er7CD
Eden Hazard and Pedro in the first half vs. Man Utd:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 16, 2017
0 crosses completed
0 take-ons completed
0 chances created
Nullified. ❌ pic.twitter.com/7T2Ao7qDxm
HERRERA IS THE FUTURE OF UNITED’S MIDFIELD
Ander Herrera has been one of the big positives of United’s season but a red card at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup cost his side dearly. It’s safe to say the Spaniard redeemed himself with this performance.
He was everywhere in midfield and was all over Hazard every time the Belgian decided to venture infield. Despite the handball to intercept Nemanja Matic’s pass, the ball to play in Marcus Rashford that followed was sublime.
Herrera then capped a superb display by scoring United’s second, albeit via a deflection.
Ander Herrera game by numbers vs. Chelsea:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 16, 2017
2 chances created
Bossed it. ✊ pic.twitter.com/LfoYEzNDIq
PACE AND MOBILITY CAUSE CHELSEA’S BACK THREE PROBLEMS
With every three-man central defence comes a vulnerability from wide areas, it’s upto the opposition to exploit that effectively and United did just that.
Lingard in particular was superb with his moving; David Luiz and Gary Cahill didn’t know where he was half the time. Young did his job, piercing that left side but it was Rashford’s running of the channels that made the biggest impact. His ability to drift into wide areas and use his pace was instrumental.
MOURINHO GETS IT RIGHT
There’s no doubt that Chelsea have been a constant source of pain for Mourinho since it all went awry last season. The 4-0 defeat on his return to Stamford Bridge this season would have done even more damage to his wounded ego only to then be eliminated from the FA Cup by his former side.
It seems like he’s finally worked out the winning formula though. It’s a bit cliche to label this another Mourinho tactical masterclass but many would’ve balked at his decision to leave Mkhitaryan and more curiously, Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the bench but his replacements worked perfectly, as did the system.