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Chelsea

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

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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.

Borussia Monchengladbach

Exclusive: Thorgan Hazard – From Chelsea to Gladbach and comparisons with brother Eden

The Belgian international discusses his development as a player since leaving Stamford Bridge.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Due to the fact that his brother is regarded as one of the best players in the world, Thorgan Hazard was always going to face an uphill battle to establish himself in football.

Like his older sibling, the Borussia Monchengladbach player is an attacker who likes to run with the ball and create problems for opposition defences.

His family name would have had positives and negatives for him, but ultimately, he has managed to break through and forge a reputation on his own merit during recent years.

The comparisons between the two have been impossible to miss. The 25-year-old has grown used to them as it has happened throughout his career, but he believes that his path in professional football has been more normal than Eden’s.

In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, Hazard revealed the following:

“I’ve always been compared to him. But I have often said that he is one of the best players in the world at one of the best clubs in the world. He is a genius on the pitch who has skipped several career steps. I, on the other hand, had normal development as a footballer. Although we play in a similar position, we are different players.”

Although he believes his journey has differed to his brother’s, Thorgan was signed by Chelsea shortly after the club paid big money to land Eden.

(Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The attacker was 19 years of age at the time and likely signed to appease his big brother, but it provided him with an opportunity to take his own career to the next level. He didn’t stay long and took the first chance to gain first-team experience through a loan spell.

“I spent only a month at Chelsea. Then I was loaned directly to Belgium and then to Germany. I do not want to say that I learned a lot during the one month, but it was nice to meet the club.”

The Chelsea loan policy has been heavily criticised during recent years as the club was accused of hoarding talent. However, there were benefits for young players as they got a healthy wage and were loaned out to clubs that could give them substantial playing time.

Hazard spent three seasons out on loan before eventually leaving Stamford Bridge without making an appearance in the Premier League. His third season was spent with Borussia Monchengladbach.

It is becoming increasingly common for English youngsters to move to Germany whether permanently or on loan. When asked about for his thoughts on that, Hazard acknowledged the benefits that the Bundesliga provides to a young, developing player.

“A lot of playing time is best for young players to develop. And in Germany, the clubs often give the boys good chances. The Bundesliga is also a very good competition to develop.”

It was in the German top-flight that Hazard really made his name, stepping out of his older brother’s shadow in the process. He went on an initial season-long loan to Borussia Monchengladbach before making the move permanent 12 months later.

During his first campaign with the German club, he started only seven league matches with another further 21 appearances coming from the bench. Despite his limited role, the attacker ended the season with seven assists showing the creativity that he possesses.

Hazard has provided dynamism to the Monchengladbach team since arriving at the club and has played his best football when used in a central role, as his direct style causes problems for opposition teams.

(Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

It wasn’t a huge surprise when the Bundesliga side made his deal permanent as they could see his potential and decided they could put the time into his development. He has been an important first-team player since signing, but it has only been this season that he has become an indispensable member of the starting eleven.

Hazard has started 29 times in the Bundesliga and the club have been rewarded with the attacker’s best season in the final third. The Belgian international currently has nine goals and four assists. At the time of writing, he is the team’s top scorer and he has shone in a mixed season for the club as they are currently positioned in 8th.

Monchengladbach are an ambitious club and having played in the Champions League in two of the last three seasons, they will be looking to challenge towards the top of the division. Their current position is not bad, but they will look back on it with some regret.

“I think we had a good first turn, we have achieved good performances and good results. The second half of the season is very difficult.

“We had many injured players and some unfortunate decisions of the referee against us. But that cannot be an excuse. In some cases, we have not shown our best performance. That’s why we are in the middle of the table. Now we want to win the remaining games if possible.”

The team still have an outside chance of qualifying for Europe, but they will require a perfect end to the season and other teams to slip up. They have had problems in both halves of the pitch, but it is their defensive record that has troubled them more. In total, the club have conceded 48 goals, which ranks them as the joint-third worst defence in the division.

In the final third, they have been decent, but they still have the second-worst record in the top half of the table. One player to impress and show consistency has been Hazard. The 25-year-old has scored more league goals than any other player in the squad and he admits that it is enjoying his responsibility in the final third.

“Of course, it’s nice to be the top scorer of his team. But it’s just my job to help the team win games. Being a decisive player also means I’m doing a good job. Whether I’m involved in goals or someone else is not the most important thing.”

(Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Hazard has certainly been a decisive player this season, as he is having his most productive campaign since signing for Monchengladbach. There are a lot of talented players in the squad, but the Belgian international is arguably the standout and it will be important that they keep him if they want to challenge higher up the league next season.

There won’t be a shortage of clubs looking at his as a potential target and this summer could be huge in determining his future. Hazard looks likely to go to the World Cup with Belgium and that will put him in the shop window if he plays and performs well.

Given his brother’s success in England, there could be Premier League interest in the 25-year-old at some point soon. However, he isn’t looking too far ahead of himself.

“Everyone knows the Premier League and it’s an interesting competition. But right now, I have another two years contract with Borussia Mönchengladbach. We will see what the future holds. But I feel very comfortable with Borussia and in the Bundesliga. At the moment I do not think about a change.”

At the age of 25, Hazard has several seasons left at the top level and his gradual improvement until now should offer encouragement that greater things are to come in his career. He has a lot more to give and this season has seen him take his career to the next level.

The Monchengladbach man has gone from decent squad player to leading attacker and he isn’t finished yet.

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Arsenal

Who is best-placed to challenge Manchester City next season?

Pep Guardiola’s side will be looking to defend their title during the 2018/19 campaign.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City were crowned as Premier League champions on Sunday afternoon after Manchester United suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of struggling West Bromwich Albion.

Pep Guardiola’s team have ripped apart the top-flight of English football this season with a devastatingly effective style of play that has left their rivals struggling to hold on to their coattails.

City are currently 16 points clear of second place with five games still to play and now have the opportunity to break the 100-point barrier as the season comes to a conclusion.

Here, The Boot Room evaluate which top-six team is best placed to challenge Manchester City’s dominance next year.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Manchester United

There are currently mixed feelings around Old Trafford regarding how Manchester United have performed this season and the long-term direction of the club under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho.

A failure to maintain the astonishing pace set by Manchester City has left supporters having to be content with a top-four finish and FA Cup semi-final whilst there has been a deluge of criticism aimed at the pragmatic style of play utilised.

Mourinho remains one of the best managers in world football and he is still in the process of moulding a team in his own image.

The Portuguese maestro has already spent big in the transfer market, as demonstrated by the arrivals of Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku over the past two years, and the club are expected to make further significant investments in the summer.

He needs to find the missing piece to the Manchester United jigsaw and that will mean addressing the lop-sided defence, demonstrated by Ashley Young’s emergence as first-choice left-back.

Mourinho has overcome Guardiola in the past but there will be no room for excuses next season if, after two years of building a team, Manchester United are unable to challenge their cross-city rivals.

(Photo by Glyn Kirk/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur have continuously improved year-on-year under the stewardship of Mauricio Pochettino but you still feel that the club is some way behind their rivals in terms of winning the Premier League.

Spurs have a young, dynamic squad of players that play fast, attacking football and, in Harry Kane, they possess one of the best strikers in the world right now. However, something is still missing and it is hard to put your finger on exactly what it is.

Perhaps it is simply a mental issue? Tottenham have not won a league title since 1960 and last secured silverware of any kind almost a decade ago – do the current group of players have the right mentality or experience to enable them to maintain performances over the course of a full campaign? Their upcoming FA Cup semi-final may provide an insight later this month.

Whilst you feel that Tottenham will always be in and around the top spots next season, it is difficult to see them overcoming Manchester City without significant investment or Pochettino uncovering the magic formula.

(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Chelsea

Chelsea have offered a feeble and limp defence of their title this year and still face a scramble to secure a place in the top-four.

Things have clearly not been right behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge and Antonio Conte is expected to depart the club in the summer after spending much of the season snipping at the Chelsea hierarchy.

Regardless of who the Italian’s successor is, it is widely expected that the club will bounce back.

Under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, the Blues have continuously maintained their standing as one of the leading side’s in the country and you would imagine that the Russian oligarch will be keen to reclaim their crown next season.

Chelsea will spend big in the summer to ensure that they build a squad capable of challenging Manchester City and a striker will be top of the new manager’s wish list. Alvaro Morata made a positive start to the campaign but has struggled for form and fitness in the second half of the season.

If the Blues can make the right appointment in the dugout and strengthen significantly on the pitch then history suggests they will be in and around the top spots.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Liverpool

Since arriving at Anfield in October 2015 Jurgen Klopp thrown himself into the task of restoring Liverpool’s status as one of the leading club’s in Europe.

Each transfer window has seen the squad steadily improve and you now feel that the German has built a team that is capable of challenging for both domestic and European silverware.

Liverpool have a reputation for producing attacking, dynamic and exciting football and the attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino possess an abundance of pace, power and creativity.

Under the stewardship of Klopp, the team have always looked capable of scoring goals but have regularly been criticised for being undermined by defensive fragile and frail.

However, the signing of Virgil Van Dijk in January, the emergence of John Robertson and the new-found confidence of Loris Karius appears to have put some of those concerns to bed – Liverpool have kept eight clean sheets in their last 12 matches in all competitions.

Klopp will continue to develop the squad during the summer and, as proven by their historic victory over Manchester City, the Reds are certainly heading in the right direction.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Arsenal

There has continued to be a degree of frustration and dissatisfaction around the Emirates Stadium this season as Arsenal have continued to fall behind their rivals on the pitch.

The Gunners are currently 33 points behind Manchester City in the Premier League are relying on winning the Europa League in order to qualify for the Champions League next year.

The club under-performed last season, failing to qualify for Europe’s premier competition, and the decline has continued over the following twelve months with supporters becoming increasingly frustrated with Arsene Wenger’s failure to consistently secure positive results.

The same old problems persist – there is a lack of leaders, a lack of quality in central defence and no commanding midfield player.

Wenger has brought together an exciting forward line that possesses pace, power and experience with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan arriving in January to complement the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and a fit-again Danny Welbeck.

However, Arsenal continue to be undermined by prevalent weaknesses throughout the remainder of the team and there are currently a world away from competing with Manchester City.

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Championship

Fulham fans would hate it, but Chelsea should chase Slavisa Jokanovic and Ryan Sessegnon

Chelsea may need a new manager in the summer and Fulham offer a perfect solution.

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Fulham are flying this season yet again. For the second season in a row Slavisa Jokanovic is leading the club to a promotion push and Cottagers fans will no doubt be hoping the Serbian can take them all the way this time.

He is a massively important part of the reason why Fulham find themselves where they are right now, but so is left-sided phenomenon Ryan Sessegnon. The Championship star has most of Europe tracking his progress as he continues to exceed expectations at such a young age in the Championship.

Fulham are flying and excitement is high at Craven Cottage.

But, success attracts attention and plenty of teams have been linked with Sessegnon. Jokanovic, however, is also a name that is being linked with other clubs.

Fulham’s West London rivals Chelsea are looking likely to need a new manager this season. The general consensus is that Antonio Conte will be on his way out of Stamford Bridge this summer and whilst plenty of names are being linked with the job, a surprise option appears to be the Fulham boss.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Back in March, his name emerged as a surprise candidate for the position, as reported by the Daily Mail.

Whilst he has no managerial credentials in the Premier League he still has fantastic form as a head coach.

After leading Partizan Belgrade to back-to-back promotions he guided Muangthong United to an undefeated season and the Thai Premier League title.

Short-lived spells at Levski Sofia and Hercules followed before getting Watford promoted to the Premier League in 2015.

Before Fulham lured him back to England, the Serbian had guided Maccabi Tel-Aviv to the Champions League group stage, by knocking out perennial entrants FC Basel.

Jokanovic is rightly a highly rated manager. Chelsea would be making a smart move by bringing him in this summer. Of course, he is also a former player, although there are few highlights of his time at Stamford Bridge.

(28 Oct 2001: Slavisa Jokanovic of Chelsea gets away from Darryl Powell of Derby during the match between Derby County and Chelsea in the FA Barclaycard Premiership at Pride Park, Derby. Mandatory Credit: Mark Thompson/ALLSPORT

Bringing in Jokanovic could also give Chelsea the upper-hand in any fight to sign Sessegnon this summer.

The Blues are just one of many teams to have been linked with the young talent this summer. If Jokanovic was present at Stamford Bridge, they would have a massive advantage in the hunt for the impressive teenager.

Fulham fans would, of course, hate to see their excellent manager and young starlet head to their biggest rivals, but Chelsea would be making a smart move by making it happen.

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