Jose Mourinho played himself back into the Premier League conversation with a tactical masterclass against Chelsea on Sunday, with a comprehensive 2-0 defeat of the league leaders. The defeat is the heaviest suffered by Conte’s men since Tottenham Hotspurs sent them packing from White Hart Lane in January with the same score line. But the United defeat is ‘better’ because:
- Chelsea had two shots on target against Spurs. They had NONE against United. It’s the first time they’ll have that statistic since 2007.
- Chelsea committed 19 fouls against United. It’s the most fouls they had committed in a game in a long while. That’s an indication of the pressure they were under. So, how did Mourinho cage the dragon that seemed to be devouring the Premiership?
He got his tactics spot on. Yep, that’s easier said than done. While analysts have the benefit of hindsight, coaches don’t. Mourinho went with a flat back four, and his troops kept Chelsea on the back foot all game. Manchester United were aggressive in a controlled way: they battled all over the park and kept Chelsea off balance without committing fouls, especially in dangerous areas.
Another spot on tactic was starting Marcus Rashford ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibra had started all of United’s games when he is available. Ibra is a big game player. Ibra had delivered for Manchester United and Mourinho this season. But on this day when Mourinho needed a win of any sort, he benched Zlatan. If United had lost, Mourinho would have been skewered in the press. But the introduction of Rashford was a tactical masterpiece, because…
Rashford was the nightmare David Luiz and some Chelsea fans had been dreading. The United youngster ran the Chelsea defence ragged. His pace and inventiveness terrorised Luiz in particular and he should have scored more goals. And when United were protecting the two-goal lead, he was left alone upfront, but still kept Chelsea defenders busy.
Sticking Herrera to Eden Hazard was a gamble that paid off big time. The Spanish defender was booked twice in 15 minutes just over a month ago, when Chelsea defeated United in the FA Cup. Both fouls were against Hazard. It was a risky move to put him on the Belgian again. But that’s what Mourinho did. And it paid off. Herrera gave Hazard no breathing space, and rendered the usually mesmerising play maker virtually useless all game. Plus, Herrera found time and space to deliver the pass for the opening goal, and score a second himself.
Mourinho and United are not out of the woods yet, but after playing so many draws, this win will ensure that the remaining teams on their fixture list will not swagger onto the pitch against the record English Champions.