De Futebol

Man U took a huge step to possibly making into the top four with a shocking 2-0 win over Chelsea at Old Trafford. Couple this with Liverpool’s 1-0 win over West Brom and the title is on for real with six matches left.

The Blues lead the pack with 75 points.

Spurs are second with 71 points.

Third place sits Liverpool 66 points.

Man Shitty is fourth with 64 points.

Man U is fifth with 60 points.

The Daily Mail on the Red Devils win. “Revenge being a dish best served cold, not to mention wet and miserable in the North West, this was very near to the perfect afternoon for Jose Mourinho.

He may claim it was just another game for him, but who believes that? This was a special event for El Specialissimo. He put Manchester United back in the hunt for the Champions League places, and did so making his old charges at Chelsea look second best.

Chelsea did not have a shot on target for the first time in a Premier League game since September 23, 2007. The result that day was 2-0 to Manchester United, too. It was Avram Grant’s first game as manager, after Mourinho’s first Stamford Bridge dismissal.

Just under a decade on and Mourinho is now Chelsea’s nemesis. Certainly this performance would have put a considerable dent in some big blue egos. Eden Hazard was anonymous against Ander Herrera, Pedro rarely threatened, while Diego Costa was ineffectual having started too many feuds to play a coherent game. This was the classic performance of a Mourinho side, all the more impressive because a Thursday night fixture in Brussels had given him so little time to prepare.

But he obviously did. He threw a blanket over Chelsea’s creativity and worried them with pace and width. He left out Zlatan Ibrahimovic and was rewarded by the best performance of the season from Marcus Rashford, who received a standing ovation from the crowd and hug from his manager when he was substituted after 83 minutes. Herrera’s job on Hazard was quite magnificent.

To rub it in, the man sent to destroy Chelsea even scored United’s second goal. There were 41 minutes remaining at the time, but still looked to be no way back. It is hard to remember a Chelsea so ordinary, or a chance that caused a bead of sweat on break out on David De Gea’s brow. Manchester United were a different class on the day, just as Chelsea had been at Stamford Bridge when these teams met in the Premier League earlier this season.

So, the good news is, we have a title race again – just four points separating Chelsea and Tottenham now. The bad – Chelsea do not play a team of Manchester United’s substance again. Indeed, their final six opponents are Southampton, Everton, Middlesbrough, West Brom, Watford and Sunderland. In the corresponding games this season they collected a full 18 points and scored 12 goals against those teams, conceding one. Everton away are a handful now, of course, although Chelsea can afford to lose one, and still win the league, providing they win the other five.

Tottenham’s fixtures may also afford solace, containing matches against Manchester United and Arsenal, plus visits to revitalised Crystal Palace and Leicester, a London derby at West Ham and the season’s climax against battling Hull. The corresponding six fixtures for Tottenham earlier in this campaign read W3 D2 L1 F9 A5. They are the form team now, though, no doubt about it. Time is not their friend, however.

Still, we are closer to a scrap than we ever looked likely to be a month or so ago, and the hope in north London is Chelsea will be rattled by playing a match they deserved to lose at such a crucial moment in the season. There is a difference between battering the hell out of Crystal Palace and coming away with nothing, and being battered by a Manchester United team they put four goals past in October.

For what is without doubt is United were worth this. True, both of their goals had an element of good fortune about them, but only a blue-eyed fool would claim Chelsea were hard done by.

Break number one came with a handball in the build-up to Rashford’s opener, unnoticed by referee Robert Madeley. In his defence, he got most of the rest of it right and any official spending 90 minutes in the company of charmers like Costa and Marcos Rojo deserves our sympathy – but he messed up here. The goal came in the seventh minute – surprisingly United’s fastest of the season in the Premier League – after Nemanja Matic had been dispossessed carrying the ball upfield.

What Madeley failed to spot was that Herrera had intercepted using an arm, clearly outstretched, clearly handball. Madeley was unresponsive, Herrera was not. Seizing on his advantage he broke forward and played a lovely pass into the path of the outstanding Rashford who drew Asmir Begovic and finished smartly past him.

The second came after some uncommonly sloppy play at the back from Chelsea and a deflection. A clearance was sent cheaply back into the path of Ashley Young, whose cross found Herrera. Replays showed Gary Cahill choosing to offer Jesse Lingard a hand up as play went on when he may have been better off focussing on the problems ahead – but Herrera’s shot ricocheted off his defensive partner Kurt Zouma, giving Begovic little chance.

It was an uncomfortable afternoon for Chelsea’s stand-in goalkeeper, promoted after Thibaut Courtois suffered an injury. The suggestion was he turned an ankle playing basketball for a promotional film, although Conte would not confirm this. His frosty response, however, suggested he was not best pleased that this particular white man couldn’t jump. When Marcos Alonso withdrew from the pre-match warm-up having woken up this morning feeling unwell, Chelsea’s misery was complete. The most settled starting XI in the Premier League was to include understudies and battlefield promotions – Kurt Zouma to central defence, Cesar Azpilicueta into Alonso’s wing back role.

Not since the visit to White Hart Lane on January 4 have Chelsea been as comprehensively outplayed as they were here. They were simply no threat and it did not help that Costa decided to have one of those games when he takes on the world. Focussed, he’s dangerous; on afternoons like this he can be a menace.

He was at war with Eric Bailly, with Rojo, with Madeley, his assistants and the Old Trafford crowd. He started by pushing Bailly off the field as they tussled for a ball in the six-yard box, which angered the United players; he was booked for a foul on Paul Pogba after 33 minutes, and was then involved in a wrestling match with Rojo that could have brought further trouble. The pair jumped, Costa landed on Rojo’s hip, the United man took it personally and grabbed him around the neck. Costa flailed around on the ground holding his face as if struck, Rojo did likewise with other parts of his anatomy. They were both such rotten actors that Madeley saw through it all and did nothing.

Yet Chelsea looked hesitant, particularly David Luiz, who was caught in possession by Jesse Lingard after five minutes, the ball sent through to Rashford whose shot was wastefully wide. It was all United after that. Ashley Young had several good attempts and Rashford was magnificent. One run, in which he fought Luiz off all the way, ended in a fine Begovic save at the near post. Another shot saw Cahill almost turn the ball into his own net trying to block.

‘We’re top of the league,’ crowed Chelsea’s fans throughout, but by the end it sounded more bravado than boast. Tottenham’s meeting with Manchester United looms large.

If United’s manager wants to make sure of Champions League football next season, he may yet have to hold his nose and do his old club a favour on May 14.

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