A tactical masterclass from Jose Mourinho against former team Chelsea provided enormous positives that will be felt in Manchester and indeed the capital. Under fire before kick off for dropping the talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic and starting scapegoat Marouane Fellaini, his selection was not only justified, it was tactically brilliant. Just the sort of move the Portuguese is known for doing.
United have done the chasing pack a huge favour, grinding down the runaway Chelsea bus and bringing the Blues to four points ahead second placed Spurs. A second defeat in four games for Antonio Conte’s men has those at Stamford Bridge checking nervously for the onrushing brigades at Tottenham and indeed Manchester City.
Deprived of Marcos Alonso and Thibaut Courtois will have hit his defence a little. But Kurt Zouma had returned; the presence of Gary Cahill and Victor Moses were, again, constant, plus PFA Player of the Year in waiting, N’Golo Kante sat beside Nemanja Matic in the deep role.
Yet for all this presence on the pitch, they looked bewildered as Marcus Rashford blew past them and tucked the ball away after just 7 minutes. The remaining 83 minutes were little more than chasing shadows, especially when Ander Herrera’s shot deflected past Asmir Begovic a mere four minutes after the restart.
Eden Hazard was completely marked out the game by the brilliant Herrera, while Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo were set the task of containing Diego Costa, who’s frustrations brought out his old Incredible Hulk from within. Even when Conte reverted to a 4-3-3 and brought Pedro into the wide berth, it barely troubled United.
This insofar is the Italian’s problem. He has had little need to deliberate and tinker with his squad, who have delivered results consistently and impressively. But he looked short of a plan B today when it was apparent Mourinho had finally edged the tactical battle.
He must now learn where to amend and reshuffle should such a case arise again. Bigger tests will come. It will be required of him to pick his team up and ensure they finish with a flourish what appears to have been theirs since autumn.
As for United, they are looking a little more resurgent. Rashford bore ripe fruit in the face of Mourinho’s decision to pitch him against the Blues defence. He along with Jesse Lingard, ran their opponents ragged, and showed just why they’re two of the most important individuals in united’s future, PROVIDED Mourinho plays them. Egged on by a capacity crowd, it was almost a return to the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s relentless attack tactics.
They’ve done no harm to their top four hopes, even with Europa League glory a very real possibility. Provided the consistency is there, they are well on the road to recovery.