United 2-0 Chelsea: Five things we learned

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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Striker has same number of Premier League goals as CR7

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Young days: Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates a goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo was a rising sensation during his time at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Before his departure to Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2009, CR7 scored 84 Premier League goals in 196 appearances for his team, some of them really when it mattered the most.

But Romelu Lukaku, who has been a pleasure to watch this Premier League season, has now scored as many goals (84) as Ronaldo but with fewer appearances (181).

Against Burnley on Saturday, Lukaku again got on the scoresheet to take his tally of goals 24 – the most in the English top flight.

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COMMENT: Kane joins elite band of world-class strikers

James Piercy 16/04/2017
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In form: Spurs star Kane.

In terms of Premier League strikers, Harry Kane earned membership to the most exclusive of clubs on Saturday with his 48th-minute goal in Tottenham’s cakewalk of a win over Bournemouth.

Turning past Simon Francis, with the benefit of the Cherries’ defender’s frantic and under-hit attempt of a clearance, Kane was able to stroke home his 20th goal in the league this season.

It’s significance is considerable, as he becomes only the fourth man in the English top-flight, since the imposed 1992 watershed of when modern football apparently began, to score 20 or more league goals in three successive campaigns.

The other names on that list being: Alan Shearer – who hit four 20+ seasons at Blackburn and Newcastle 1993-97 – Thierry Henry who breached the magic mark five times 2001-06 and Ruud van Nistelrooy 2001-04.

That trio all being in the conversation when assembling a forward line for an all-time Premier League XI.

But not only does the gravitas of the individuals matter in emphasising Kane’s achievement but also the timeline, as it’s been more than 10 years since we’ve seen it.

Since 2006, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie, Didier Drogba and Sergio Aguero (who could, admittedly, still make it three on the spin this season) have all reached their respective peaks but not managed such consistency in front of goal.

Solid win again! Happy to reach 20 goals again, hopefully more to come! #coys #premierleague

A post shared by Harry Kane (@harrykane) on

To add to the scale of it all, Shearer was 25, Henry 26 and Van Nistelrooy 27 when they recorded a third-straight season of 20+ league goals; Kane is 23.

Tottenham’s No9 can also lay claim to having elements of each of the aforementioned trio in the way he plays.

He has a similar poacher’s instinct and penalty box presence, bordering on greediness akin to Van Nistelrooy; he’s scored Henry-esque goals in the way he has taken defenders on down the left channel before cutting inside and curling the ball into the far corner but, of course, the most fitting comparison is with Shearer.

There has always been a sense of pure Englishness about Kane; the ‘50s-style square jaw, neatly constructed slick-back hair, an unfussy and straightforward demeanour refusing to embrace the celebrity side of sport, all while being a physically-strong centre-forward who leads by example. Before he even existed, he’d already been invented, as the ideal of what a No9 from the British Isles should be – a simple footballer who evokes memories of simpler times.

And yet, still doubt remains, with the overriding question that for all this, just how good is he? He is, to many, the perennial one-season wonder who will eventually be found out. Except it’s three seasons now and assuming he stays at White Hart Lane and grows alongside Tottenham’s developing core, there’s every reason to suggest he can join Shearer on four, Henry on five and maybe even surpass them and make it six seasons of 20+ goals, injuries permitting.

Kane is a strange kind of striker in that, he doesn’t have one signature aspect of his game you can hang your hat on; exhilarating acceleration like Henry, sheer physical power and aerial dominance of Shearer or a tractor beam-like ability in the box of Van Nistelrooy.

Kane’s first touch can be a little clunky, he occasionally goes through periods of losing possession, his set-pieces need fine-tuning and he lacks natural pace but that is all nit-picking as, ultimately, he is good to very good in nearly every aspect of being a forward.

He is, unlike the more established and recognised names he has joined in Premier League history, still evolving. And that’s the key to how Kane will be defined.

Because he was verging on hopeless for England at Euro 2016 as his reserves were drained by a domestic season of considerable intensity. But irrespective of how you feel about international football’s relevance, if he does experience an England career punctuated by poor tournament performances, it will be a stick to beat him with.

The other major barometer will be in the Champions League where his career, alongside Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs, is at the beginning of their evolution. Although, he already has two in three.

That, though, is all for another day as he grows as a goalscorer and builds on a start which indicates he can become more than just a Premier League record holder.

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