25th of February 2018

Brave Blues slip to defeat at Old Trafford (2-1)

For the second time in six days Willian gave his side the lead with a sweet strike but once again a game in which we created the greater number of chances did not yield a win.

The Blues played well in the first half and Alvaro Morata hit the woodwork before Willian’s goal just past the half-hour mark, but Romelu Lukaku equalised against the run of play before the interval.

The second half was more even in the balance of play, with Thibaut Courtois denying his compatriot Lukaku a second goal and the Blues almost catching David De Gea out on a couple of occasions, but as on Tuesday we were left to rue a second-half defensive lapse, this one allowing substitute Jesse Lingard to grab the three points for the home side.

For today’s game both managers made two changes from their midweek Champions League line-ups. For Chelsea, Danny Drinkwater replaced Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata, scorer of the only goal when these two sides met at the Bridge in November, was given the chance to add to that tally. Pedro was the attacker making way.

One of Man United’s switches was enforced, with Paul Pogba taking the place of Ander Herrera who was injured in Seville. In their front line, Anthony Martial was preferred to former Blue Juan Mata.

For these teams too, this Sunday lunchtime meeting mattered as much as the respective European ties. With little between us in the Premier League table and Liverpool and Spurs already with victories this weekend, both were after three points in the race for a top-four place.

Chelsea spirits were up following our decent showing against Barcelona and here at Old Trafford, our start was as crisp as the Manchester weather, with a corner won inside the first minute. It was played short and then low towards Morata but was out of reach of the Spaniard who was starting a game for the first time in 2018.

Toni Rudiger, part of an unchanged defence, then stormed half the length of the pitch into the United area as the Blues kept the pressure on.

A brilliant move followed on three minutes which sliced the home defence open. Marcos Alonso’s volleyed cross was turned onto the crossbar by Morata. Hazard on the follow-up had a looping effort touched over at full stretch by David De Gea.

The home side, who looked to be guarding against allowing the Blues space for counter-attacking, were finding N’Golo Kante especially an obstacle to launching advances of their own. In contrast, the early ball out to Victor Moses was looking an avenue worthy of us exploring.

As the game reached the midway point of the first half, crowd frustrations with Man United’s showing so far were beginning to be audible, but although Chelsea were continuing to look the better team on the ball, our advances into the opposition penalty area had diminished in number compared with the opening minutes.

When Man U did spring forward at pace when a Blues attack broke down, Andreas Christensen was positioned well to clear the cross. Suddenly however, Chelsea looked hurried in defence for a few minutes. The ball came to Alexis Sanchez in front of the target, but the former Gunner had no firepower in his shot and it was easy for Courtois.

Kante was the first name in the referee’s notebook for bring down Pogba as their chase reached midway inside the Chelsea half. When the United attack emanating from that free-kick eventually broke down, the Blues were able to break at our best, and the opening goal was the result.

It was Willian who raced with the ball away from our penalty area initially and released Hazard to run at Victor Lindelof. Willian overlapped and took on Hazard’s perfectly timed pass with one touch before hammering it right-footed at goal. It was close to De Gea but simply had too much power for the in-form keeper. 1-0 to Chelsea in the 34th minute.

Unfortunately the lead lasted five minutes only, with Man United’s equaliser aided by a bash to the head of Christensen as he challenged Romelu Lukaku. The ref opted not to stop play and our opponents took advantage of the extra space in the middle with Martial teeing up Lukaku for a close-range finish.

We could have struck back quickly but Hazard turned down a shooting chance and instead fed Alonso whose effort from a tricky situation cleared the bar. So it was all-square at the interval, but on the first-half showing, further goals were certainly within the capabilities of Conte’s men. Sadly it proved not to be the case.

Willian is a man at the peak of his powers at the moment, and it was he who sprung the first Chelsea attack of the second half. Unfortunately although Morata had the pace to win a race to the Brazilian’s ball forward, he could not turn it into anything testing for De Gea. Another Chelsea counter soon after broke down with a misplaced Hazard pass.

On 57 minutes, Drinkwater, against the club where he learned his trade, decided to test De Gea from distance and he nearly came up trumps when the United keeper spilled the shot. Alonso was just behind two defenders in the chase for the loose ball and could not overcome the odds.

Chelsea were generally keeping Man United at safe distance from goal although on 67 minutes, Lukaku was able to strike a volley on the turn that needed a very smart save from Courtois to keep it out.

His opposite number was again unsteady in his handling when Willian drilled a free-kick his way, Antonio Valencia having been booked for the foul.

Pedro had been brought on for Hazard and Olivier Giroud was stripped and ready to come on when it was another substitute, Man United’s Lingard, who headed his side ahead with quarter-of-an-hour to go, having nipped between Azpilicueta and Christensen to meet a Lukaku cross.

It was a sickener and one that although we had plenty of the attacking play for the rest of the game, could not be overcome. Morata had the ball in the net but from an offside position. That looked a close call.

So it ends with one win a piece between these two side this season but this defeat leaves us in fifth in the table. We have a week to regroup before a return to Manchester to take on City.


- Match stats:

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, Rudiger; Moses (Giroud 78), Drinkwater (Fabregas 80), Kante, Alonso; Hazard (Pedro 73), Morata, Willian.

Scorer Willian 32

Booked Kante 30, Morata 88

Man United: De Gea; Valencia (c), Smalling, Lindelof, Young; McTominay, Pogba, Matic; Martial (Lingard 64), Lukaku, Sanchez (Bailly 80)

Scorers Lukaku 39, Lingard 75

Booked Valencia 68, Matic 85

Referee Martin Atkinson

Crowd 71,060

- Match report by chelseafc.com

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