Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in a potentially must-win game for both sides. An Alvaro Morata goal 10 mins into the second half was the difference-maker. United never had enough quality to come back in the game despite Mourinho putting all his offensive forces on the field. Chelsea, on the other hand, were good tactically good, sticking to their tasks and defending well off the ball. United looked a bit confused whether to stick to defending or open up in attack. Overall, the better team won.
With the formation Mourinho chose to start, it was clear he wanted his team to be on the front foot. The 3-4-1-2 is perfectly suited for a team like United who have good crosser either side of the pitch. The first 15-20 minutes did pan out the way Jose wanted with Chelsea on the back-foot and visitors having pops at Courtois’ goal. Valencia and Young were moving forward at every given opportunity.
Chelsea dominating midfield: –
Chelsea being the home team had to respond to that start. Hazard dropped into midfield a bit to link up play with Morata. With Fabregas, Bakayoko and Kante already in there, Conte’s men had an overload since then against Matic, Herrera and an anonymous Mkhitaryan.
As we see in the above image, Hazard dropping in midfield overloaded Chelsea in the middle. The United midfield got outnumbered several times and on this occasion, Fabregas was the free man in space. We all know if Fabregas is given time with the ball, he can cause havoc with his passing range. This is the main reason Spaniard had a good game. The return of Kante sitting in also allowed Bakayoko to make those forward runs.
The above image shows just another instance of how Chelsea midfield dominated United’s. Now, Chris Smalling has the ball and he is thinking his midfielders are outnumbered. He can’t pass it sideways as Morata and Hazard are well aware of that. So, the only ball is up top to Lukaku. With Mkhitaryan being anonymous through the hour he played, it became more difficult for Lukaku or Rashford to get quality from the number 10 role player.
Fabregas getting space in midfield: –
We have already spoken about how Hazard dropped in to add an extra midfield giving Fabregas the added space in midfield. The above image is another instance of that. Once Morata laid that ball, there wasn’t any United player even close to the Spaniard. He got his head up and played a good ball to Alonso and the attack starts.
Conte must be given credit as to how he used him in midfield. They say his legs are gone but when given space with the ball, he’s one of the best. United received that experience virtually every time he was on the ball.
Chelsea goal analysis: –
The build-up to this Chelsea goal was all about the theme of the game, midfield domination. Early into the second half, there was a barrage of blue attack and the goal seemed coming. Apparently, Mourinho warned the players about it at half-time. With the overload far side, Smalling and Bailly were sucked in that side.
Now, Herrera is also there trying to mark Fabregas giving Matic an added task to mark Bakayoko and forward-moving Azpilicueta. Watching all this develop, Jones tried to come up and cut the space for the centre-back having the ball. This gave Morata the space into which he can run.
It was just a question of whether Azpilicueta could find the striker with his cross. The answer was affirmative and a very good header unlocked a generally tight defence. Another instance of why winning midfield battle in big games is so vital. Chelsea always had a spare man in the middle which allowed runners in the box and United couldn’t cope.
Mourinho’s tactics: –
Jose Mourinho arrived at this game with an added pressure of firstly playing well against his former club and also to win. In fairness to him, he set out his team with an attacking intent. But, just when we thought okay this is where United could take control of the game, Chelsea came back and never allowed easy passage for their opposition.
After half time, the Portuguese must have been confused whether to go at the home side or just sit back for a point. Things got different though with that goal and substitutions became a necessity. Mkhitaryan being absent throughout the game didn’t really help the cause.
If we look at the bigger picture of the game, Chelsea were the deserved winners. Apart from that early spell of chances, United were never in the game. Mourinho has loads of work to do, especially in away games against the top 6 sides. Conte on the other hand, will be relieved to get this win. He left out Luiz stating “tactical” reasons but there is much more to that. Christensen performing well vindicated his manager’s decision. The title race is becoming one-horse week by week, it is clearly now City’s to lose.