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How Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard combined to halt Chelsea’s title march



The Premier League title race was blown wide open as Manchester United stunned Chelsea with a 2-0 victory at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Antonio Conte’s league leaders were well beaten by Jose Mourinho’s resurgent Red Devils side, with goals from Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera ensuring the gap at the top of the table remains at just four points.

Mourinho’s tactical set-up prior to the match came under much scrutiny, with the majority suggesting that a ‘weaker’ team selection signified the Portuguese head coach’s intention to prioritise United’s progression in the Europa League.

Nonetheless, if the lesson hasn’t previously be learnt; we should never write off a Mourinho side – no matter how under-strength.

Rather than folding over at the hands of the Champions-elect, the Manchester United eleven carried out their manager’s master plan to perfection, and instead emerged with a much-deserved three points.

This was a victory that maintained the host’s challenge for Champions League qualification while blowing the race for the title wide open.

Key to the Red Devils’ success was homegrown duo Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford.

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With Mourinho looking to nullify a Chelsea side that has been so successful this season, the former Academy prospects proved a potent attacking force. Instructed to play as a front-two, in a 3-5-2 system, the pair ensured Chelsea’s defenders experienced a torrid afternoon at the office.

Despite being the away side, Chelsea will have been considered the more dominant team as they fell to a second successive defeat. Indeed, Antonio Conte’s side enjoyed 53.8% of the possession on Sunday afternoon, while completing 369 passes in comparison to United’s 314.

Mourinho will have been fully aware of this outcome, and he set up his side to counter, as a result. Knowing the visitors would experience the lion’s share of the ball, United would rely on the pace and athleticism of Rashford and Lingard to attack in behind Chelsea’s back-three.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing the lone centre-forward role – as he has done for much of the season – this would not have been possible.

Mourinho, being the astute thinker that he is, opted against familiarity, giving his homegrown attackers the opportunity to perform for the Old Trafford faithful, and they repaid his faith.

Jesse Lingard’s heat map versus Chelsea.

Lingard and Rashford have grown up through the Manchester United Academy ranks together and have seemingly struck un unbreakable bond, both on and off the pitch. The telepathic-like understanding between them was evident in their passing and movement, which was excellent throughout.

Rashford proved a menace down the right-hand channel, taking on both David Luiz and Gary Cahill, while Lingard played a more nomadic role. Tasked with creating space for his strike partner, the latter’s persistent movement displaced Chelsea’s centre-backs, allowing Rashford to perform his responsibilities between the lines.

Granted, Rashford was aided by the absence of Marcos Alonso at left-back for Chelsea, which left the visitors considerably more vulnerable down this side, but he must be credited for playing his role to perfection.

Instructed to run in behind Chelsea’s defence at every given opportunity, Rashford’s efforts paid dividends within the first ten minutes. Latching onto a perfect through ball played by Ander Herrera, the England international broke free of Luiz, before firing a low finish past Asmir Begovic in the Blues’ goal.

Marcus Rashford struck the opening goal against Chelsea after just seven minutes.

An often underappreciated aspect of Marcus Rashford’s game is his ability to compete on a physical level. Not only is he lightning fast, the 19-year-old possesses brute strength which enables him to go toe-to-toe with the top flight’s most accomplished defenders.

On multiple occasions at Old Trafford, he could be seen tussling – and coming out on top – against David Luiz and co. On one occasion, he showed surprising strength to hold off Luiz and N’Golo Kante before drawing a diving save from Asmir Begovic.

Following Lingard’s substitution in the second-half, Rashford found himself left to his own devices in the final third. Despite being isolated for much of this time, the 19-year-old continued to hold his own against Chelsea’s back-three – even causing further problems for them as the game moved into its dying embers.

Rashford completed four of seven attempted take ons against Chelsea’s experienced defence.

Responsible for providing the firepower in the most exciting match Old Trafford has witnessed for some time, the combined performance of Lingard and Rashford will not be soon forgotten. The pace and movement of the duo offered the sort of threat that troubled Chelsea instantly while offering a return to the attacking days of old.

Manchester United came into this game having scored 46 times, 17 fewer than any other member of the Premier League’s top six and just one more than Bournemouth. Nonetheless, this frontline display – put on by the Red Devils academy duo – provided a gentle reminder of the abundant potential at Jose Mourinho’s disposal.

Whether the Portuguese head coach will opt to deploy the duo as a strike partnership again, prior to the end of the season, remains to be seen. Nonetheless, this performance against the current Premier League leaders will have been enough to prove to the Old Trafford boss that he has a very effective ‘Plan B’, should he so require.

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Chris is the founder of The Boot Room. He is a Swindon Town supporter, having lived in Wiltshire for most of his years. His work has also featured on Squawka, Bleacher Report and Eurosport.

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Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Chelsea held La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

Lionel Messi finally broke his goalscoring duck against Chelsea to give Barcelona the edge after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Messi had failed to score in eight previous attempts against the Blues, but he was not to be denied on this occasion as he cancelled out Willian’s 62nd-minute opener.

A Chelsea clean sheet would have been a massive boost ahead of a daunting trip to the Camp Nou next month.

However, Messi’s equaliser 15 minutes from time means Antonio Conte’s men face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s showpiece competition.

Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge…

Conte’s tactical approach so nearly pays dividends

But for the fatal error that led to Messi’s leveller, Chelsea would be heading to Catalonia in three weeks’ time with a one-goal lead to protect.

That they came so close to victory is testament to Conte’s tactical nous, which stifled Barcelona while also allowing the home side to flourish.

As expected, the visitors dominated the ball throughout the encounter. However, they created precious few opportunities as Chelsea’s back line held firm.

Conte had resisted the temptation to start with an out-and-out striker, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud both named on the bench.

The fluid movement of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Willian caused more problems than Barcelona have been used to this season and the Blues’ second-half goal was a deserved one.

Heading into the second leg, Conte will need to devise another masterplan if Chelsea are to proceed to the last eight.

Third time lucky for impressive Willian

The tricky Brazilian has by no means been a regular for Chelsea this season.

But he was given the nod against Barcelona in a three-man attack that featured Hazard as a false number nine.

It’s a system Conte has favoured recently, but although it failed to get the best out of Hazard, the same could not be said about Willian.

He was Chelsea’s chief threat and, on another night, could have walked off with the match ball.

Willian twice hit the post in the first-half, showing great skill on each occasion to create space and leave Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.

Despite his misfortune, Willian was unbowed and he broke the deadlock with a pinpoint finish that raised the roof at Stamford Bridge.

It was a fitting reward for a top-class performance that highlighted his natural ability.

Surely he can’t be far away from cementing a regular spot in Conte’s starting XI?

Messi ends Chelsea goal drought to have decisive say

It is not often that British football fans get to see the little magician at such close quarters, so each time he arrives on these shores it is to be cherished.

Chelsea had a game-plan to nullify his influence and in the first half this worked superbly.

Although there were the usual sublime touches that we have come to expect, Messi was largely shackled by a solid rearguard display from Chelsea’s three-man central defence.

However, it only takes a side to switch off for a moment for the Argentinian to flex his muscles.

A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, whose pull back enabled Messi to slide the ball past Thibaut Courtois.

Once the ball had arrived to him in the box, there was no doubting where it would nestle.

Messi’s exuberant celebrations underlined the importance of his equaliser in the context of the tie.

It could be the decisive moment.

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Chelsea 4-0 Hull City – Willian plays himself into Champions League contention

Jake Jackman




Chelsea continued their upturn in form with a convincing 4-0 win over Hull City in the FA Cup. The Blues were overwhelming favourites for the tie, but they had to get the job done and they did so effectively, scoring four times in the first-half.

They would have had one eye on the Champions League tie against Barcelona that is upcoming and that led to Antonio Conte making several changes.

The Italian decided to rest key players such as Eden Hazard, Ngolo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta. It was the right decision as they progressed with comfort. Here are three talking points from the match:

Olivier Giroud is off the mark

One huge positive to come out of the game for the hosts was Olivier Giroud’s first goal for the club. He signed in January to provide competition for Alvaro Morata and his performances have been encouraging since signing, but to hit the back of the net takes the pressure off the Frenchman.

The signing carried relatively little risk for Chelsea as the striker has lots of experience in England and his consistency is already shining through in a Blues’ shirt.

Early into the game, he had a great opportunity to open his account, but he blazed a volley over the bar. It was a difficult chance as the ball was lifted over the defence to play him in, but a striker of his calibre should have done better.

Three goals were scored and he didn’t score one of them. If he had finished the match without scoring, it would have been talked about and that is why his goal just before half-time will relieve the pressure from him.

The rest of his game was excellent as he got two assists and linked up the play well from the front-line. Although he was brought in to be the back-up striker, Conte may give him the start against Barcelona as he is the player in form.

Hull City showed fight in the second half

The contest was over by the time the players stepped back out for the second-half, but Hull City showed fight and commitment to keep the score down to 4-0.

Nigel Adkins knows the importance of every mental victory when battling against relegation and to draw the second half can provide the players with confidence ahead of a return to league action.

Their performance was markedly improved as they created good opportunities and came close to scoring from the penalty spot. David Meyler stepped up and saw his penalty saved, but that didn’t see the players lose focus as they continued to create opportunities. During the match, they had 10 shots to Chelsea’s 14, which shows that they were far from embarrassed. They just didn’t have the quality in the final third that their Premier League opposition did possess.

It would be a huge blow for Hull City to suffer back-to-back relegations and their manager will be aware of that. This match against Chelsea was a good occasion, but it was far from a priority and their defeat won’t live too long in the memory.

They are currently 21st in the Championship and only above the bottom three by one point. Their far superior goal difference provides encouragement, but they must show this level of commitment until the end of the season if they are to avoid the drop.

Willian proved his quality before the return of the Champions League

Rotation can cause problems in the FA Cup, but in this case, it provided an opportunity to those that are on the fringes of the first-team to play themselves into contention for the Champions League.

Willian is an interesting case as he does feature prominently, but he isn’t a guaranteed first-team starter, as Pedro often gets the nod to start ahead of him.

Willian was excellent against Hull City and certainly gave his manager some food for thought ahead of the match with Barcelona. He completed six dribbles, attempted four shots and made three key passes as he terrorised the opposition defence. On the day, he scored twice, but he easily could have got a hat-trick.

Antonio Conte will be aware that his team’s big weakness is an over-reliance on Eden Hazard. The return of Cesc Fabregas goes some way to providing some support to the Belgian, but if Chelsea can get Willian playing to this level consistently, that would be a positive. He is more dynamic than Pedro and offers more flair to the attack. This performance could see him start against Barcelona.

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Chelsea 3-0 West Bromwich Albion: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from Stamford Bridge as an Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea dismantled a struggling West Bromwich Albion side.

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

Chelsea eased the pressure on Antonio Conte after a brace from Eden Hazard saw off basement boys West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge.

It had been a troubling week for the Blues, following back-to-back heavy defeats against Bournemouth and Watford that had cast serious doubts over Conte’s position as manager.

But Hazard netted twice, either side of a goal from Victor Moses to complete a routine victory over the Baggies, who lost loan star Daniel Sturridge to injury after just three minutes.

Chelsea leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur into fourth spot as the battle for the top four heats up, while West Brom remain seven points adrift of safety.

Here are three talking points…

Talismanic Hazard comes to the rescue again

Just days after he was voted as Belgium’s player of the year by his peers, Hazard underlined his ability as a footballer of rare class with another brace to take his tally to 11 for the season.

Chelsea’s number 10 has an excellent scoring record against West Brom, one which he improved upon with a display that was too good for the Baggies to handle.

Hazard is a talismanic performer and when he hits his straps, the rest of the team feed off him.

Hazard combined with new boy Olivier Giroud to slam home his first of the evening, which eased the tension at Stamford Bridge.

The 27-year-old added his second and rounded off the scoring late in the second half, slamming the ball past visiting keeper Ben Foster.

Back in the top four as a result of this victory, Hazard will be the key to Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

With him in their ranks, anything is possible.

Conte relieved as the pressure lifts

One man who will be extremely grateful for Hazard’s dazzling display is Conte.

The Italian seemed to be on the brink after last week’s 4-1 loss to Watford, which came hot on the heels of a similarly catastrophic result at home to Bournemouth.

Conte’s prickly demeanour and comments in press conferences had led some to speculate that he was goading the Chelsea board into sacking him, less than a year after he steered the club to the Premier League title.

Either way, it’s clear he retains the full support of the Stamford Bridge faithful, which was vocal in its support for Conte throughout the game, chanting his name with regularity.

Conte himself was typically demonstrative on the touchline, bellowing instructions and celebrating each of the goals as his players repaid him with an improved performance.

Whether he will be in the dugout next season remains to be seen, but for now at least his job is more secure than it was a week ago.

Sturridge’s World Cup audition falls flat

In front of watching England manager Gareth Southgate, Sturridge would have been hopeful of making a positive impression following his shock move to West Brom in the January window.

The Liverpool striker made the switch in order to enhance his prospects of making the World Cup squad, which will be named in little over three months’ time.

Few doubt Sturridge’s quality, but his fragile body continually struggles to hold up under the intensity of Premier League football.

His withdrawal due to a hamstring strain less than three minutes on the clock was a monumental blow, both to him personally and West Brom’s ambitions of springing a surprise against Chelsea.

Although he is expected to be sidelined for only a couple of weeks, this latest setback again raises questions over his durability.

Sturridge’s opportunities to prove he deserves to be on the plane to Russia are fast running out.

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