By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Sunday 5th November, Stamford Bridge – Chelsea faced Manchester United for the first time in the 2017-18 season. The visitors were trying to keep pace with runaway leaders Manchester City. The hosts needed to recover some dignity after being taken apart in Rome Tuesday night.
Manchester United had been in pretty decent form – they’d won four of their last five games, against Benfica, Swansea, Tottenham and then Benfica again. Their one reverse was a shock 2 – 1 defeat to Huddersfield Town – but these things happen in the premier league. It wasn’t a huge reflection on their quality as a team.
Chelsea had continued their slightly surreal, topsy-turvy hangover of a season all through October, remaining thoroughly consistent at being inconsistent. They’d been well beaten by the league’s bottom side Crystal Palace, before playing a rollercoaster 3 – 3 versus Roma in London. After that there were some encouraging results against Watford, Everton and Bournemouth. But then came one of their worst performances in the Conte era, in an embarrassing 3 – 0 CL away defeat to AS Roma.
There had been stories during the week about Conte reading his players the riot act, training ground bust-ups – influential center back David Luiz was not even on the bench for this game. Was Conte losing the dressing room? Would player power claim yet another brilliant manager’s job at Stamford Bridge? Or would Antonio be able to provoke a positive reaction against one of the biggest teams in the league?
Before the game, United manager Jose Mourinho had talked about other managers “crying” about injuries, when his team had a long list of absentees – Marouane Fellaini was recovering from a knee injury, but fellow midfielders Michael Carrick and Paul Pogba remained out, as well as Marcos Rojo and their top scorer last season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Victor Moses was still recovering from his hamstring injury, but Chelsea fans had at least one big reason to be cheerful: N’golo Kante returned to the Blues’ starting line-up, for the first time since sustaining an injury on international duty with the French national team.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Courtois 7.5, Zappacosta 6 (Rudiger 6), Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 6.5, Cahill 7, Alonso 6, Kante 8, Fabregas 7 (Drinkwater 6), Bakayoko 7, Hazard 7 (Willian NR), Morata 7.5
Subs Caballero, Rudiger, Drinkwater, Ampadu, Pedro, Willian, Batshuayi
De Gea 7.5, Valencia 6.5, Young 7 (Lingard 5.5), Smalling 6, Jones 6.5 (Fellaini 7), Bailly 6.5, Matic 6, Herrera 6, Mkhitaryan 5.5 (Martial 5.5), Rashford 7, Lukaku 6.5
Subs Romero, Darmian, Fellaini, McTominay, Blind, Lingard, Martial
Not An Own Goal
The game kicked off after a perfectly observed minute of silence for Remembrance Day. Early in the match, Cesc Fabregas played a short free kick to set up the returning Kante for a shot from distance, but David De Gea saved. Chelsea had the ball in the net soon afterwards, but the goal was correctly disallowed – Alvaro Morata had bundled into Phil Jones, forcing him to put Marcos Alonso’s cross into his own net.
Back and Forth
United had a great chance themselves when Ashley Young put a cross into the box – Marcus Rashford beat the offside trap, but got under the ball with his header and it went over the bar. Tiemoue Bakayoko had an opportunity off a deflected Zappacosta cross, but he couldn’t keep his volley down – goal kick. Romelu Lukaku took a turn and a good shot from the edge of the area, but Courtois dove right to keep it out.
Chelsea were playing determined, aggressive football. It almost paid off when Eden Hazard drifted in from the right wing and rocketed a shot goal-wards, but De Gea pulled off a fantastic reaction save to deny him. Fabregas tried to head the rebound in, but it hit the side netting instead.
Soon afterwards Fabregas found Alvaro Morata in the penalty box with a beautiful through ball. Morata dummied Smalling to make space for himself, but then played a weak shot straight at De Gea. Christensen had a free header off a Fabregas corner but could not keep it on target. Both teams went in at half time goalless. Chelsea had created more chances, but you couldn’t tell from the scoreline. It was still anyone’s game.
Alvaro Morata had not had much of an impact for Chelsea in the first half. He’d been hustled off the ball a bit too easily by the opposition center backs, and maybe Conte had a word in his ear at halftime. He started the second half with intent, attempting a turn and volley off a lob from Bakayoko, but it went wide. Hazard had a brilliant chance off a cross from the left wing, but he must not have realized there was no one close to him, and his rushed half volley went straight to the keeper.
And then on 55 minutes, the moment Chelsea’s intense attacking pressure had bought for them; Cesar Azpilicueta made another early cross, this time Morata was unmarked in the box just as Hazard had been earlier. He leaped and met the cross, heading the ball into the top corner for 1 – 0.
Not Much Of A Response
Seeking a way back into the game, Jose Mourinho made a double substitution – Fellaini and Martial for Jones and Mkhitaryan respectively. It didn’t make much difference though, the game was more balanced but United still struggled to create clear-cut chances.
Chris Smalling tried a close-range header off a Rashford corner but it was off target. Then Bakayoko had a chance to wrap up the game for Chelsea – he took the ball off Fellaini and dribbled past Smalling, but then put his finish wide of the post. Hazard had a similar chance when he drove in on the counter, but De Gea made yet another reflex save to keep his shot out.
Marcus Rashford almost equalized close to the end of the game, but his shot took a deflection and went out for a corner. Eric Bailly played a long ball up the pitch to Fellaini, who chested it down and volleyed at goal but Courtois saved the shot. Rashford also went close at the death with a free kick… but nothing doing. Antonio Conte had found the reaction he wanted, it was not going to be Manchester United’s day.
Final Score Chelsea 1 – 0 Manchester United
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Mirror
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