Top Bins: Chelsea vs. Manchester United (March 13, 2017)
1. Chelsea’s long-anticipated FA Cup Quarterfinal against Manchester United & bitter ex-girlfriend Jose Mourinho was about the least dull 1-0 victory the Blues have had in recent memory.
2. Antonio Conte opted to go with Nemanja Matic in midfield, ending Cesc Fabregas’ run of three consecutive starts. United & Mourinho, clearly wary after the 4-0 drubbing they received at the Bridge in October, opted to match the Blues 3-4-3 formation this time around. Although he didn’t pull a City, Mourinho still rested 3-4 regular starters to prioritize United’s upcoming Europa League 2nd leg against Rostov.
3. Mourinho’s consistent comments throughout the season about Chelsea supposedly playing defensive football could not have been more transparent in a match where they ended up having 72% possession. If this is considered “defensive football” Jose, then I’m looking forward to seeing Chelsea finally hitting their stride soon with 90%+ possession.
4. Of course Chelsea’s 72% possession is a bit deceiving as United played more than 55 minutes with 10-men. But after the first 15 minutes, Chelsea had the majority of possession prior to Ander Herrera’s sending off. United meanwhile committed twice as many fouls (14) as Chelsea (7), half of which came before Herrera’s second yellow.
5. United thoroughly struggled to get anything going in the game on both sides of the sending off. Chelsea managed more shots on target (5) than United managed total shots in the entire match, with their only shot on target coming through Marcus Rashford’s effort in the 58th minute
6. Speaking of Courtois, Thibaut deserves some serious praise for the season he’s having. I’ll be the first one to admit that he was poor last season, but the man has been absolutely lights out this campaign. Chelsea’s defensive record is superb, in large part due to the formation switch back in September, which arguably makes Courtois’ season THAT much more impressive. Courtois has maintained supreme focus throughout matches where he could have taken a nap in goal for 3/4ths of the game. Yes he gets paid handsomely to do this, but it’s not as easy as it seems from your armchair. Thibaut has consistently come up with big save after big save when teams get the inevitable chance or two on goal & he showed that yesterday in a 1v1 situation against Rashford.
7. Let’s talk a little about Mourinho’s game plan. From the first minute it was clear Jose set his team out to kick Chelsea repeatedly. Nobody besides Conte knows the Chelsea squad better than Mourinho & yet somehow Jose royally fudged up his game plan, underestimating the evolution of the man he wanted to stop the most, Eden Hazard.
8. While at times in the past Hazard has gone missing in games where opponents get overly physical with him, Eden showed how much he’s improved this aspect of his game. Hazard arguably got stronger & more dangerous with every subsequent tackle made on him and was the key architect in helping Chelsea solidify a footing 15 minutes into the match.
9. Goal machine/man nobody can hate N’Golo Kante broke the deadlock shortly after halftime with an absolutely bonkers shot from 25+ yards out for his 2nd goal of the season.
10. Ironically it was Kante’s lack of scoring threat which helped him find the back of the net. Before taking the shot, David De Gea took a half step to his left in anticipation that Kante would shift play to the right side as he so often does. This half step in the wrong direction proved just enough to ensure the ball slid past De Gea’s diving hand.
11. If it wasn’t for his atrocious haircut, I’m not sure I would have noticed that Paul Pogba actually played the entire match. I take that back actually, as it was Pogba’s £90million lack of a close down that led to Kante’s goal.
12. Chelsea opened the game up in the second half and finished the match with 20 total shots. One man who should have gotten on the score sheet twice was Diego Costa, who was back to his old self against fellow South American Marcos Rojo. After a season largely devoid of Diego’s petulance, it was easy to see how much his antics off the ball really took him out of the match mentally and his performance showed this. He lacked the mental sharpness that would have normally seen him put both of his easy chances in the back of the net.
13. United were lucky to finish the match with 10 men as Antonio Valencia & Marcos Rojo both could have been sent off in the second half, Valencia for a horrible two-footed lunge and Rojo for a stamp on Eden Hazard’s chest. In an effort to ensure everyone continues to hate them, the FA let Rojo escape a ban for a stamp that was every bit as bad as the stamp Bournemouth’s Tyrone Mings received a 5-match ban for not even two weeks ago. Short memories up there eh?
14. Everybody & their mamas could see United’s game plan from the beginning was to chop down Chelsea players at every opportunity and nobody was more upset with this than Chelsea manager/man you don’t want to fuck with Antonio Conte.
15. After a petulant tackle by Antonio Valencia shortly after Herrera’s red card, Conte went super saiyan towards Jose & the 4th official Mike Jones. The two managers exchanged heated words & were separated by their respective assistants, but I know more than a few Chelsea fans who would have gladly handed the pair some boxing gloves and grabbed their popcorn
16. Another intriguing point in the post-Mourinho saga was visible during Chelsea’s substitutions. Willian made way first for Fabregas & the Brazilian received a warm embrace from his former manager. However, when Diego Costa came off for Michy Batshuayi, Mourinho barely looked at his former striker, let alone shaking his hand or giving him a hug. While he’s never singled out any players on the record, that moment says a lot about what players Jose thinks let him down last season before he got the sack.
17. Jose did take a swipe at his former players in his post-match press conference when he tried to place all the blame on Chelsea’s lack of European football this season on his former squad. Obviously we’ve heard Mourinho say similar things all season long and although both the manager & the squad were equally as culpable, I’d argue Mourinho is actually a bit more at fault for Chelsea’s horrendous season.
18. It was Mourinho last season who elected to give Chelsea players extra holiday time by starting preseason two weeks later than the rest of the league. Considering Chelsea’s phenomenal fitness this season under Conte, Mourinho’s preseason decision following a PL title clearly affected the team from the very first preseason match. It’s a manager's job to get the most out of his players & this is where there is currently zero comparison between our current manager and the man who was sacked last season with the club sitting 2 spots above the relegation zone.
19. It’s hard to tell if Mourinho’s post match comments about Chelsea are deflections to help his current club or excuses to preserve his ego. All comments aside though, the small minority of fans who chanted “F*** off Mourinho!” are as delusional as they are opportunistic.
20. These are likely the same fans who labelled players like Hazard, Fabregas & Costa as “rats” last season after Jose was sacked. Hey I get it, if you pay the money for a ticket, you can say what you want, but it’s these ignorant fans who give ammunition to the rest of the league to bash Chelsea fans for being classless.
21. We know more than anyone else how good Mourinho is at getting under everyone’s skin, and even though I’ve been tremendously annoyed by his neurotic comments this season, there’s a difference between competitive ribbing of the opponent and maintaining respect for our club’s greatest ever manager (to date).
3 Points Looking Ahead
1. Victor Moses picked up a calf injury near the end of the game that will likely see him miss the Stoke match at the weekend. This makes Chelsea’s decision to recall Nathan Ake that much more important, although I suspect that we’ll likely see Kurt Zouma come in for Moses against a taller Stoke side, pushing Cesar Azpilicueta to wing back.
2. The FA Cup semifinal draw will see Chelsea take on Spurs at Wembley in April. This provides a neutral rubber match for the season series that saw both teams win their home match against the other (although I use the word ‘neutral’ lightly as Spurs are sh*t at Wembley). I don’t celebrate injuries to players, but Harry Kane’s likely absence with an ankle injury will be Chelsea’s gain as Tottenham have zero firepower to back up the Englishman.
3. After the match on BBC, Frank Lampard talked about N’Golo Kante calling him the ‘best central midfielder in the world’ at the moment. That’s beyond high praise from the Premier League’s greatest ever midfielder & the league’s greatest ever forward who was sitting next to him (Alan Shearer) didn’t disagree. As Gary Lineker put it, if the 25-year old Frenchman starts scoring more goals, he could become the greatest midfielder of all time.