Chelsea produced an efficient performance against Manchester United that all but ends their hopes of retaining the Premier League title.
Jose Mourinho made two changes to his starting lineup recalling Branislav Ivanovic to the starting XI, and opting to go with Samuel Eto’o over Fernando Torres.
David Moyes was without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, and he was forced to make three changes to the side that defeated Swansea, last weekend. Phil Jones and Ashley Young returned from injury, while Jonny Evans formed a centre-back partnership with Nemanja Vidic.
Manchester United’s overall game wasn’t poor, but defensive errors and minimal production in the final third led to their downfall.
A key component in United’s impressive start to the match was their work ethic without the ball. Moyes instructed his men to press higher up the pitch and deny Chelsea’s midfielder’s space to receive the ball.
Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj closed down Chelsea’s centrebacks, and the duo took turns dropping off and pressing David Luiz to prevent the Brazilian from playing forward passes. United’s wingers quickly pressed Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta, while Jones and Michael Carrick pushed forward to close down Chelsea’s double-pivot.
This forced Chelsea’s attacking three to drop deeper to receive the ball, but they cheaply conceded possession and Samuel Eto’o was unable to hold up the ball and bring the midfield into the match. United’s pressing prevented Chelsea’s midfield from dictating the tempo of the match by forcing them to concede possession, which ultimately led to United’s superiority.
For the most part of the first half, Chelsea struggled to sustain possession and develop quality build-up play. However, their best attacking chances were created when they broke on the counter-attack.
Ramires easily bypassed United’s midfield, but David De Gea saved the Brazilian’s tame effort. A United defender blocked Willian’s shot a minute later, when he surged towards the 18-yard box after Oscar and Eden Hazard cleverly combined. Willian continued to demonstrate his impact on both ends of the pitch when he ignited a counter-attack from his box and played in Hazard, who easily turned Vidic, which created Oscar’s overhead kick that sailed over the bar.
Mourinho’s side’s best moments were created on the counter-attack, as they rarely penetrated or sustained enough possession to unlock United’s backline.
Shockingly, while many have crucified United’s inept midfield this season, here, they were effective in comparison to the opposition. Ramires and David Luiz struggled to maintain their shape, and at times left Chelsea’s back-line vulnerable as Januzaj and Welbeck found space between the lines to penetrate. Mourinho was an animated figure on the touchline, constantly ordering the Brazilian to stay deep and protect the back four, but he was constantly caught out of position.
On the other hand, despite Jones and Carrick getting pulled out of position on the break, they were reliable passers, and Carrick, in particular, fulfilled Moyes’ wishes on the defensive end completing a match-high eight interceptions. The main issue was that Moyes may have wanted Carrick to be more involved in the attack, and provide penetrating passes. United’s midfield dominated the match throughout certain periods, and stifled Chelsea’s duo, which could explain why Mourinho was shocked that United were down two-goals at half-time.
United overload left flank
United’s main attacking threat came through Januzaj – against Swansea, the Belgian started the match as the no.10, but only provided an impact when he moved out wide. At Stamford Bridge, he provided United with a spark when he created 3v2 situations on the left flank.
The Belgian attacked half-space and the left channel on a few occasions and created United’s best chances throughout the match. Jones’ move to the right led to a Patrice Evra cross that Januzaj collected, but he was reluctant to shoot. The issue Januzaj encountered was his final ball – his movement into these spaces was clever, but Luiz – who dropped between John Terry and Gary Cahill to become a third centreback – cleared his deliveries, while the Belgian’s ball into the six-yard box wasn’t met, and Azpilicueta did a great job to divert Welbeck’s shot into Cech.
United’s best chances were created down the left flank, and although Januzaj wasn’t always behind the attack, it was evident that it was an area Moyes’ men intended on exploiting.
Eto’o’s goal at the start of the second half gave Mourinho the incentive to close out the match, and Chelsea effectively completed their task. John Obi Mikel replaced Oscar, and Chelsea became a 4-3-3, and subsequently Nemanja Matic replaced Willian.
Moyes turned to Javier Hernandez, and the Mexican led the attack ahead of Welbeck. Although United began to create chances through the United poacher, they were unable to replicate their successful overloads from the first half. Hernandez improved his impressive scoring record against Chelsea, but United didn’t create enough chances to mount a comeback.
Chelsea finished the match with four defensive midfielders, and Hazard to support Torres, while United failed to supply Welbeck and Hernandez with quality service – had Hernandez started the match, we may have witnessed a completely different score line.
United started the match well, but defensive errors in the final third led to their downfall. Moyes’ men created the better chances in the first half, by dominating the left side, but the required final ball was non-existent.
Chelsea were solid at the back, and coped with United attacks down the left, and Mourinho’s decision to field Eto’o over Torres paid off – here, the Cameroonian’s poaching abilities was an efficient attacking source that condemned United’s experienced back line.