REPORT: United edge Chelsea as Lingard strikes gold

Manchester United had the edge against rivals Chelsea as they reclaimed second place in the tight battle for the top four.

Visitors Chelsea came to Old Trafford looking to build on their strong performance earlier in the week against Barcelona after some poor results previously. Manchester United, having seen rivals Liverpool jump above them Saturday, needed all three points to take back second place.

Lineups:

Manchester United – 4312 –  De Gea, Valencia, Lindelof, Smalling, Young, McTominay, Matic, Pogba, Alexis (Bailly 81’), Martial (Lingard 64’), Lukaku

Chelsea – 343 – Courtois, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Moses (Giroud 78’), Kante, Drinkwater (Fabregas 81’), Alonso, Willian, Morata, Hazard (Pedro 73’)

From the beginning, Chelsea looked the sharper side with Manchester United flat and out of rhythm. It was clear Young would be targeted throughout the match with Willian and Moses getting plenty of looks down the right wing. Within five minutes Manchester United’s goal was under fire, as Alonso latched onto Hazard’s pass and played in a dangerous cross which Morata fired off the post. De Gea was called into action on the rebound and Manchester United managed to clear. Chelsea continued their dominance in possession even though Manchester United had slightly woken up after the close call. The few times Manchester United were able to counter, quality let them down in the final third. Courtois remained untested in the opening half hour besides a tame effort from Alexis after Martial had done well to find him in the penalty area.

Chelsea finally got their breakthrough after a brilliant counter, led by their man in form Willian. After a sloppy give away from Manchester United on a set piece, Willian surged through the midfield and played a one two with Hazard to find himself in acres of space with only De Gea to beat, which he did with a powerful strike to the near post. De Gea was clearly frustrated letting that go but Chelsea deserved the lead. Questionable defending from Manchester United letting Willian run through unmarked but a wonderful ball from Hazard nonetheless, led to the goal.  Manchester United began to slowly pull themselves together and find some rhythm, seeming fully awoken now with the visitors’ goal.

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Within ten minutes, Manchester United got their equalizer with Lukaku finally getting his first goal against the Top 6 in the Premier League this season. Lukaku recovered the ball on the top of Chelsea’s box and played in Alexis while continuing his run. Martial received the pass from Alexis and did well to lay off Lukaku, who made no mistake finding the bottom corner whilst holding off Alonso. Finally the front three for Manchester United were able to string together some passes in the final third and it paid dividends. Chelsea will have felt disappointed to concede so quickly after scoring but they responded well until the end of the half.

There were half chances for both sides early on as the game looked like it would open up in the second half. Manchester United showed real desire to get in front but still lacked the quality when they needed it. De Gea was forced to make a couple saves from Drinkwater and Willian long range strikes but nothing too troubling. Manchester United made the first change of the game with Lingard replacing Martial up top. Soon after they got their first real chance of the second half as Alexis made a mazy run and chipped it to Lukaku, whose acrobatic volley from eighteen yards out was met with an equally impressive reaction save from Courtois. A contender for goal of the season had he found the net!

Chelsea’s attacking intent from the first half had died down and Conte was content, making a like for like swap of Pedro for Hazard. Manchester United continued their desire and soon got their reward. McTominay played in Lukaku down the right channel and after creating some space for himself on the corner of the box, under no real pressure, played in a delightful cross to an oncoming Lingard whose neat header beat Courtois. A moment of real quality and desire as Lukaku sprinted down the channel, created space near two Chelsea defenders and delivered a pinpoint cross between two Chelsea defenders.

Giroud/Fabregas came on within minutes for Moses/Drinkwater and Chelsea changed to a sort of 442 to get the equalizer. Bailly came on for Alexis and Manchester United similarly changed shape to a 352 to close the game out. Chelsea continued to be resilient with Willian heavily involved but De Gea was relatively untested. Chelsea would get one more clear chance, as Fabregas played in Morata who finished clinically into the far corner. However, the linesman ruled out the goal with a marginal offside call. Chelsea will have felt hard done by on that call as it looked like Lindelof’s right foot was keeping Morata onside. Manchester United essentially “parked the bus” in the final ten minutes and were able to close out and get all three points. Their midfield group of McTominay, Matic and Pogba were the difference-makers in the second half and led their team to a comeback victory.

MOTM: Despite being on the losing end, Willian continued his brilliant form and was one of the best players on the pitch. However, his counterpart Romelu Lukaku truly willed his team to victory. From start to finish he showed great quality, passion and desire for his team.  His 93rd minute lung busting run past four or five Chelsea defenders epitomized his performance in the match. Not to mention the goal and assist against his former club. Manchester United and all their fans will hope this is the confidence boost he needs to reach that next level.

Chelsea provided a tough battle but Manchester United produced a strong second half and were able to get back into second place. Chelsea face another tough battle next week against league leaders Manchester City but can hold their heads high after this performance. With Liverpool and Sevilla on the horizon, Manchester United need to build on this momentum and finish the home stretch of the season strong.

Written by Ammar Nazarali. (@FPLAmmar)

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