LNTUP

Manchester United vs Chelsea: Match Report

Photo: Getty Images
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United deal potential blows to Chelsea’s title hopes, boosting own top four ambitions.

A fine finish from Marcus Rashford and an Ander Herrera goal capped off a deserved victory for hosts Manchester United over Premier League leaders Chelsea at Old Trafford, on Sunday.

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Rashford gave the Reds the perfect start with a composed finish after running on the end of an inch-perfect pass by United’s Spanish master inside seven minutes. Amidst rising calls of a handball by Herrera, Rashford gave United the early lead. Early on in the second half, Herrera’s deflected shot came off Kurt Zouma to find the net securing a memorable win, throwing the title race wide open.

It was just a reward for an impressive display as United extended the unbeaten run in the league to 22 games since being beaten by the Blues in October to maintain the pursuit of a top-four finish.

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For the visit of his former club, Jose Mourinho made four changes from Thursday’s Europa League draw against Anderlecht in Belgium as David De Gea returned in goal and the surprise inclusion of Ashley Young who came into captain the side. Prior to kickoff, another surprising call by Mourinho was benching in form Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the talismanic top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

A wet and miserable Easter Sunday afternoon didn’t dampen the atmosphere inside the Theatre of Dreams, which was typically electric as the Reds settled well and created the first opening in the fifth minute.

And, moments later, the young striker came up with the goods to break the deadlock, timing his run to perfection from a pinpoint through ball by Herrera to calmly slot past Chelsea’s replacement goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and send Old Trafford into pandemonium.

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The Reds continued to press high up the pitch to unsettle the Blues, with Lingard and Rashford in particular giving Chelsea’s back three a torrid time with their tireless work ethic, while at the back, Eric Bailly proved he was up to the task in shackling the visitors’ leading marksman Diego Costa and Herrera did a stellar job in keeping PFA Player of the Year nominee Eden Hazard at bay, proving pivotal in tilting the game.

Young missed a couple of sitters after dragging a low shot wide from the edge of the box after excellent work from Rashford and Paul Pogba in the build-up down the right flank. Moments later, another teasing cross by Rashford was almost headed into the back of his own net by Chelsea captain Gary Cahill, with the ball looping agonisingly on to the roof of the net.

Chances came aplenty for the men in red, as a relentless Rashford made life extremely difficult for the blues armour. Another exciting chance was fizzed wide by Young after teeing up with Rashford, deep into the first half extra time.

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It got better for the Reds just four minutes into the second half, when Young did well to drive into the box after his initial cross was cleared by Luiz before laying the ball off to Herrera, whose low shot deflected off the boot of Kurt Zouma and wrongfooted Begovic to double the lead.

Brimming with confidence, United continued to push forward as Lingard curled a shot over the crossbar from the edge of the box from Rashford’s cutback, before the lively Rashford rifled an effort from the corner of the box into the side-netting and later cut in from the left to test Begovic at his near post from 12 yards.

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On the hour mark, Michael Carrick entered the action for his 450th United appearance in all competitions, in place of Lingard, as the Reds, backed by vocal support from the terraces, showed excellent discipline and concentration to keep the Blues at arm’s length.

Chances were few and far between in the second half for both sides but Antonio Conte’s side, who had only previously lost four league games this season, rarely threatened throughout against the solid Reds defence, with De Gea large untested throughout the game.

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A particularly frustrating evening for Diego Costa and Hazard was epitomised by the figure showing Chelsea failed to muster a single shot on target throughout the match.

In truth, United easily saw out the first win over Chelsea since 2012 to make it a memorable Easter and provide the perfect warm-up for another crucial encounter at Old Trafford next week, against Anderlecht in the second leg of the Europa League quarter-final.