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.
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.
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.
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.
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.[interaction id=”58ee2dd0cb4fa6890817998b”]
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Three key takeaways from Crystal Palace’s transfer window
The summer transfer window drew to a close on Thursday.
Crystal Palace finished deadline day with the last-minute confirmation of the loan signing of Jordan Ayew from Swansea City. The Eagles finished the window with four total signings, but only spent a total of £9.5 million.
The south Londoners made do with a tight budget and held on to their crown jewel Wilfried Zaha, resulting in a successful summer. Here are three things we learnt from Palace’s transfer business.
Don’t believe the tabloid hype
The Wilfried Zaha saga was perhaps the most drawn out transfer rumour of the entire window, and as many Palace supporters had expected, it was completely unfounded.
Despite the numerous claims that Zaha had rejected a contract, was eager to leave to a supposedly bigger club, or was itching to play Champions League football, the Ivory Coast international remained at Selhurst Park.
The winger still has four years left on his contract, has spoken publicly about his love for the club, and will again be crucial to Crystal Palace’s success this season. Still an Eagle, Zaha’s status reveals the sensationalist nature of many tabloids that aim to create unrest when none is present.
Doing business on a budget is difficult, but not impossible
According to The Guardian, Palace’s transfer budget was restricted due to the high wages being paid to star players such as Mamadou Sahko and Christian Benteke. Yet, in the face of these barriers, the club managed to secure a number of canny deals at a low cost.
Ayew was brought in on loan, goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and midfielder Max Meyer were free transfers, and Cheikhou Kouyate was the only purchase of the summer at £9.5 million.
Four players of top quality for less than £10 million represents astute business, and Palace should be applauded for conducting decent deals on a shoestring budget.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s absence will be felt thanks to Chelsea‘s terrible transfer policy
Crystal Palace made it no secret that they were eager to bring Ruben Loftus-Cheek back to SE25 this summer, but unfortunately for both the club and player, Chelsea refused to let him leave.
On the face of it, it was an encouraging decision for Loftus-Cheek, as he would be finally handed consistent football at his parent club. Yet the loan signing of Mateo Kovacic from Real Madrid further pushes the England international down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge, leaving many to wonder why Chelsea barred him from a return to Crystal Palace.
In the end, the Eagles will miss his presence in midfield and will undoubtedly be frustrated to watch Loftus-Cheek wasting away on the Chelsea bench.
One to watch: Derby County’s 19-year-old midfielder Mason Mount
Introducing The Boot Room’s 2018/19 One to Watch series…
Mason Mount has arrived on loan at Derby County as a well-known quantity.
The Englishman spent a number of successful years in Chelsea’s youth academy, featuring under the Rams’ new assistant coach Jody Morris.
As a Blue, his progress has also been closely monitored by Derby’s new manager Frank Lampard, who was keen to bring Mount on loan after his stunning season in the Eredivisie with Vitesse.
“He’s creative, plays from central midfield in an attacking sense, scores, and creates goals,” Lampard said after the announcement that Mount would be joining Derby on loan this season.
These characteristics will be important for Derby who will once again be chasing promotion this season.
Mount is a dynamic threat in an attacking midfield role.
His ability to make correct decisions in attacking transition phases should prove crucial in unlocking the potential of the array of forward-thinking talent Lampard has at his disposal.
The 19-year-old is always looking to take risks to advance the ball and play attackers in behind the defence.
Similarly, he ensures routinely accurate delivery from set-pieces and is capable of scoring from dead ball situations himself.
Depending on the formation Lampard will look to play at Derby, Mount could also be suited to play as a number eight – his ball-carrying quality is another one of his strongpoints that would be particularly useful in such a role.
The 19-year-old has already proven his capabilities at senior level, but the Championship provides him with another chance to showcase his qualities to his parent club in a league with a different dynamic.
In saying this, Mount’s game should translate well to English football as it is not overly predicated on any particular style of football, nor is he reliant on a system being shaped around him. He is dynamic.
Derby should target Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham, hand him the number nine shirt
Derby County are set to embark on the dawn of a new era under the management of Frank Lampard.
Sky Bet Championship outfit Derby County recently unveiled their squad numbers for the 2018/19 campaign, on their official website, and the obvious omission from the list was the void of a number nine
The Rams have signed five new players this summer and it was thought in some people’s eyes that big-money recruit Jack Marriott, who arrived from Peterborough United, might be handed the famous shirt number
Marriott has taken number 14 and it leaves those of a Derby persuasion with a a sense of suspicion that boss Frank Lampard might not be quite finished in the transfer market just yet.
Ipswich Town striker Martyn Waghorn has been heavily linked with a move to the East Midlands, but given the money that the Tractor Boys are wanting to recoup for their star attraction, the Rams might be better off looking elsewhere to bolster their attacking ranks.
Lampard has already raided his former club Chelsea this summer to sign highly-rated youngster Mason Mount and a return to Stamford Bridge to request another favour might be in the Derby boss’ best interests, when it comes to signing a new striker.
Striker Tammy Abraham is not expected to get much of a look in under new Blues’ boss Maurizio Sarri and another loan move away from London could be on the agenda for the man who spent last season on loan at Swansea City.
In netting five goals from his 31 Premier League appearances at the Liberty Stadium he hardly set the league alight, but it is the form he showed during a loan spell at Bristol City that should tempt the Derby boss into a move for the talisman.
During his season-long stint at Ashton Gate he netted 23 goals from 41 games and was named the club’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year, demonstrating a devastating level of composure in front of goal at Championship level.
The Rams aren’t blessed with loads of pace when it comes to out-and-out strikers and Abraham’s youthful exuberance would make him a shrewd addition to Lampard’s new-look Rams squad, whilst a player of his ability would be more than worthy of wearing the number nine shirt.
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