16th of April 2017

Blues undone away at Old Trafford (2-0)

Goals early in the first and second halves proved the Blues undoing at Old Trafford. Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera were the Manchester United goalscorers and the result reflected the attacking balance of a game in which Chelsea’s usual potency was on the whole diminished.

There was hope the home side, having played in Europe on Thursday, might become more vulnerable late in the game with Chelsea improving on our first-half showing, but by then with their two-goal advantage they were able to keep men back. The game came to a close without the returning David De Gea having to face a shot on target.

Our Premier League lead is reduced to four points ahead of the pause for FA Cup semi-final action next weekend.

When the team sheets were handed in there was one enforced change to the Chelsea line-up from the one last weekend at Bournemouth. Thibaut Courtois was unavailable with an ankle injury so Asmir Begovic came in for his first Premier League action of the season, and there was one further change that then had to be made. Marcos Alonso was unable to complete the warm-up which meant a late introduction to the side for Kurt Zouma with Cesar Azpilicueta pushed out wide.

Jose Mourinho, in the midst a Europa League tie, mixed his selection up more. He recalled De Gea among four changes and named Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the Man United bench.

Jesse Lingard was paired with Marcus Rashford in the Red Devils’ attack and it was through the latter that they took the early lead – with just seven minutes gone. A key to the goal was a well-weighted long counter-attacking pass by Herrera which allowed Rashford to run in behind David Luiz, but the Blues can feel unfortunate that an initial Herrera handball which cut out a Chelsea pass and ended an attack was not spotted. Rashford stayed ahead of the Chelsea defence and finished with a shot across the advancing Begovic.

Given the surprise disruption of the Alonso injury, it was a start the Blues definitely could have done without. We had conceded for the first time against the Red Devils this season and in doing so had lifted the Old Trafford crowd. A tough afternoon was on the cards.

On 12 minutes a ball was crossed high by Victor Moses into the Man United area which resulted in a De Gea catch and a coming together between Diego Costa and Eric Bailly. The referee had words although it was a collision with the post that was the main cause of the defender's pain.

Ashley Young went close to a second goal for the home side before it was Diego Costa’s turn to be felled, in his case by a challenge from behind by Marcos Rojo.

Begovic made a save from a Rashford ball squared across goal which came in between two Chelsea attempts to counter-attack. The second of those was halted abruptly by a Fellaini foul on the advancing David Luiz. The Blues were still looking for a proper foothold in the game when Young shot wide for a second time with half-an-hour almost played.

Diego Costa was carded for catching Paul Pogba late. Man United were perhaps fortunate not to pick up a yellow themselves when Hazard was fouled by Herrera. It did give us the chance for a free-kick deep into the United area but the ref spotted a Blues infringement. The game was frustratingly stop-start.

Matters did go Chelsea’s way when after Moses slipped when dealing with Rashford, a cross which hit the head of Gary Cahill looped safely onto the top of our net. The Manchester rain had fallen heavily during the day and Azpilicueta slipped as well soon after when about to cross.

As first-half stoppage time began, Diego Costa from distance lashed wide after the Blues moved the ball at speed, but Man United playing a 3-5-2 shape and switching their wing-backs during the game were not truly tested at the back in the first 45 minutes. Going forward they had their moments but when Young lashed the last chance of the first period over the bar, we knew we would at least start the second half only one goal behind.

However the hammer blow of the second goal came only four minutes after the restart. Chelsea had half-cleared the danger a couple of times through David Luiz and Kante but Herrera’s shot from the edge of the area deflected off the leg of Zouma and left Begovic helpless as it flew past.

Two-nil down away from home against a top-six side. Something different was needed so Antonio Conte called for Cesc Fabregas and took Moses off. We went to a 4-3-3 shape.

Fabregas’s sharp-thinking almost made it happen before long but his quickly taken free-kick towards Diego Costa dropped kindly for De Gea. Azpilicueta tried to pick out Pedro in space but the Spaniard stretching at the far post could not quite reach it for a shot on goal. He later cut inside with the ball and had a shot deflected over for a corner which led to a big scramble, but again the loose ball did not fall our way.

At the other end, the lively Rashford followed up an early effort over the bar by Lingard with a shot into the side-netting. Rashford later broke forward and managed to hold off the attentions of David Luiz and Zouma to draw a save from Begovic.

Herrera did pick up a booking for a foul on Hazard but time was fast running out for Chelsea. The game was inside the final 20 minutes. Rojo also saw yellow for pulling back Diego Costa but although the Blues had the ball in the United half for plenty of the closing minutes, there was no way through. Fabregas joined the booked players late on.

This is our first defeat outside London this season and our first against Man United in 13 meetings.

- Match stats:

Chelsea (3-4-3): Begovic; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses (Fabregas 54), Kante, Matic (Willian 67), Zouma (Loftus-Cheek 83) Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard.

Unused subs Eduardo, Terry, Ake, Batshuayi.
Booked Diego Costa 33, Cahill 47, Fabregas 90.

Man United (3-5-2): De Gea; Bailly, Rojo, Darmian; Valencia, Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba, Young (c) (Fosu-Mensah 90+3), Rashford (Ibrahimovic 83), Lingard (Carrick 60).

Unused subs Romero, Blind, Shaw, Mkhitaryan.
Scorers Rashford 7. Herrera 49.
Booked Herrera 73, Rojo 75

Referee Robert Madley
Crowd 75,272

- Match report by chelseafc.com


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