The Telegraphs Ben Bloom wrote this little piece after the Man U shocking win over Chelsea this past Sunday.
Exuberance (and dynamism) of youth
Just a week after proclaiming that he felt “like Benjamin Button – I was born old and I will die young”, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was relegated to bench duty against Chelsea with Jose Mourinho explaining the Swede was “tired, very tired.”
United fans arriving at Old Trafford would doubtless have been concerned to be without a man who has scored 17 league goals this season. They need not have worried.
Ibrahimovic’s absence allowed United to attack in a totally different manner to when their main target man is on the pitch. Employed in a central role, Marcus Rashford provided a liveliness that United have rarely seen this campaign – a season in which the England youngster has struggled to fire.
Herrera’s personal mission
When Eden Hazard slumped down inside the Chelsea changing room at half-time he must have despaired. One of two Chelsea players nominated for the PFA Player of the Year, Hazard was treated to a shadow in the opening 45 minutes in the form of Eden Herrera and he knew it was only going to continue after the break.
One innocuous moment 40 minutes into the game summed it up. Having advanced high into Chelsea’s half, Herrera laid the ball off to Antonio Valencia on the right wing and – where a central midfielder might ordinarily be expected to generate some space for the return pass – then proceeded to totally neglect his attacking duties, instead casting frantic glances either side of him to see where Hazard had wandered to. Once the Chelsea man was located, Herrera hared over to him and put him back in his pocket. Job done.
Unable to hear Gary Neville (who was on co-commentary duty) urging him to move wider in a bid to force Herrera to take up what would effectively be an unnatural full-back position, Hazard was marked out of the game.
On the few occasions the Chelsea man managed to wriggle free, Herrera was all too happy to stretch to laws of the game by giving away free-kicks and picking up a second-half yellow card. It was a tactical masterstroke from Mourinho perfectly executed by his player. And he even managed to score as well.
Chelsea’s missing men
In the tactical battle between two of the Premier League’s ‘super managers’ Antonio Conte was left under no illusion that he lost out to his Chelsea predecessor. But his task was made notably harder by a couple of late drop-outs from his starting XI.
The first omission was announced earlier in the day when Chelsea confirmed Thibaut Courtois would not be fit to play. What the club failed to reveal was that their No 1 had picked up an ankle injury playing basketball during a commercial shoot to promote the NBA. To be fair to the man tasked with replacing him, Asmir Begovic did little wrong between the sticks.
The absence of Marcos Alonso had a far greater impact, with Conte given just minutes to change his set-up after the Spaniard withdrew due to illness during the warm-up. That meant Cesar Azpilicueta was switched from one of the back three to step in at left wing-back, but within 20 minutes Conte had decided to swap him with right wing-back Victor Moses in a bid to keep tabs on Lingard and Rashford.
The pair soon reverted to their original flanks and things did improve defensively, but the damage had already been done.
Man of the match – Marcus Rashford
A tally of four league goals is an accurate reflection of the troubles Rashford has faced this season after he burst onto the Old Trafford scene little over a year ago. Understandably, the teenager has been forced to play second fiddle to Ibrahimovic but, handed a rare opportunity to lead the line, he grasped it with both hands and gave a glimpse of the future.
What Manchester United must do next
After a season that has seen United perform woefully at Old Trafford by their high standards, Mourinho will be hoping this victory will galvanise his team at the back end of the season. The United manager has insisted he is intent on giving his all in the Europa League – the only trophy available to him in his debut season in charge. Some tough away league trips await (against Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs) as United chase a top-four finish.
What Chelsea must do next
After this blip, the next task for Conte’s side is an FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham – the team now bearing down on them at the top of the Premier League table. Whether they win or lose, they can take solace in what appears to be a relatively simple run-in, with a trip to Everton the trickiest of their remaining league matches. Conte has seen it all before and will be at pains to ensure his players do not panic off the back of this result.”