Chelsea Overcome A Disjointed United Side
Jose Mourinho brought his Manchester United team to the Home of the Champions to face a Chelsea team that have come under recent fire for some abject performances. Despite not playing particularly well though, they`ve managed to eek out some dodgy wins. That all fell apart on Tuesday, when Roma battered them in the Champions League.
Conte`s response was to drop David Luiz for what he called, 'tactical reasons.` Andreas Christensen came in for Luiz with Gary Cahill reverting back to the left of the defensive three. Cesar Azpilicueta returned to the right side having played as wing back against Roma.
The big news for the Chelsea faithful though, was the return of N`golo Kante. Antonio Conte opted for a 3-5-2 formation, packing the midfield with the diminutive Frenchman as well as Marcos Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Davide Zappacosta.
The game started following an immaculately observed silence for those that fell in countless conflicts around the world, this being the game nearest to Remembrance Sunday.
It was lively start to a game forecast to be a dour affair. First chance for Chelsea was when Cesc Fabregas played a free kick short to N`golo Kante, who fired low to David de Gea`s right which he was able to save. Chelsea had the ball in the net on seven minutes when Phil Jones volleyed past de Gea, however Alvaro Morata was adjudged to given Jones a nudge. Replays showed it to be a very, very little nudge. It was a great finish though.
At the other end Marcus Rashford had the chance of getting an header in on Thibaut Courtois` goal but he floated his header over the goal. Bakayoko playing further forward than he`s used to found himself in space in United`s penalty area with a clear shot on goal. Somehow he conceived to completely miss the target with his effort.
The game was played at a frenetic pace and Bakayoko had another long range shot that this time was deflected wide. Neither team were sitting back and Romelu Lukaku had a long range that Courtois was able to push away. Good play by Eden Hazard allowed himself the space to get a shot away which stung de Gea`s hands and Cesc Fabregas bundled the rebound into the side netting.
Bakayoko picked up the game`s first yellow card as he ventured forward in search of the ball and found the player instead. The game settled into pattern that saw Chelsea gain the upper hand in terms of possession, without producing a breakthrough.
Morata had chances but they were not good enough to beat United`s Spanish goalkeeper. For all their possession, Chelsea`s failure to capitalise on it, was a source of frustration, that looked to be wearing Morata down.
As half-time approached Hazard was simply body-checked by Valencia and an irate Conte was spoken to by the referee, Anthony Taylor. Nothing came of the free-kick and half-time followed. Chelsea had played with a passion that was missing in the second half in Rome and showed once again that they are still willing to fight for the badge on their shirts.
The second half started much slower than the first, with Chelsea having the bulk of the ball, which as we know, wouldn`t bother Mourinho. Phil Jones picked up United`s first yellow card when he scythed Hazard down. Hazard then drew a foul off Matic, which was rewarded with a free-kick that Fabregas duly wasted. Another foul by Ander Herrera resulted in another yellow card. Hazard was very much targeted in four short second half minutes.
As Chelsea pressed further, the deadlock was broken on 55 minutes when Chelsea`s Spanish duo of Azpilicueta and Morata once again teamed up to produce the goods. Azpi floated a cross right onto Morata`s head and he powered the ball across de Gea, leaving him totally stranded. The lead was well deserved. Antonio Conte`s harsh words in the week had done the trick as Chelsea looked right on it.
Having gone behind, Mourinho bought Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini on to try and affect his team`s lacklustre performance. Cesc Fabregas has taken a lot of stick, not least on this website, but he was pulling the strings in midfield. With Kante back Chelsea`s midfield looked so much more comfortable.
Following United`s substitutions Conte replaced Zappacosta with the stronger Antonio Rudiger and Azpilicueta moved to the right wing back position. Fellaini then found himself getting a yellow card as he gave Morata a forearm into the face off the ball. Whilst the substitutions settled into the game, it became a bit scrappy as each team looked to dominate the midfield.
Bakayoko had another chance, when once again he found himself to be the furthest blue shirt forward. Once again he missed the target. Shortly after Eden Hazard forced de Gea into yet another save as Chelsea looked for a second.
Jesse Lingard came on for United with thirteen minutes remaining and Danny Drinkwater finally had his chance to team up with Kante in midfield when he replaced the impressive Fabregas.
Running out of ideas, United resorted to simply fouling any of Chelsea`s players at any opportunity. Ander Herrera was fortunate stay on the field when he once again clattered Hazard.
Late in the game Conte decided to replace man-of-the-match contender Hazard with another of Chelsea`s out-of-formers, Willian. United`s scoring record in the final ten minutes of games is the league`s best by far and Fellaini had a chance on 90 minutes that Courtois managed to keep out. It was their second effort on target.
Those final minutes were United`s best of the game, and whilst they pushed for an equaliser Willian broke and set Morata on his way. As the Spaniard closed in on de Gea he had a Fernando Torres moment, and tripped himself up and de Gea cleaned up.
A final flurry from United, with a free kick that Marcus Rashford saw deflected over Courtois` goal just about wrapped up proceedings. Nemanja Matic returned to the Bridge and did nothing to upset his former employers. Chelsea old boy Romelu Lukaku, barely managed a shot. It was a tense but ultimately perfect evening in West London.
Antonio Conte asked questions of his Chelsea squad in the week and they replied with a positive performance that sent the Stamford Bridge faithful home with big smiles on their faces.
The Italian heads into the international break the happier of the two managers and sadly for the press, he lives to fight another day.