Chelsea came out on top against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening after a good overall display in what was a tight first half, but a second in which we took control of proceedings.
Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge, and decided to match our formation, perhaps pre-empting Conte in selecting a 3-5-2, or maybe it was more by chance as he sort to use an extra man in the middle, expecting us to line up with only two central midfielders. Luiz was dropped, not even on the bench. Christensen came in at the heart of the back three and was excellent, reading the play well throughout, and making a couple of great blocks. Cahill and Azpilicueta joined him, and both had markedly better displays than they have delivered of late. Azpilicueta was back to his old self, faultless throughout, and provided a threat marauding forward as well. Kante returned the starting line-up, and played like he’d never been away. Breaking up play and recycling the ball constantly. A key player in getting the win here. Fabregas alongside him had another very good match. He has become so important as a creative force for us, and his incisive forward passes are the mainstay of our attack. Hazard joined Morata upfront.
The first half went as many would have predicted, a very tight encounter with a lot of the play in the middle of the park. Manchester United had not come to sit back though, it was pretty much a stalemate as both sides cancelled each other out in the same shape. Mourinho clearly had specific tactics in mind for Hazard though, as he was effectively man-marked by one of his three centre backs, depending on which side of the field he drifted into. Even when he dropped deep, he was trailed by either Bailly or Jones. They couldn’t prevent him getting on the ball, but they did negate his creativity for large parts of the half. His partner Morata was holding the ball up and linking play excellently, but Bailly in particular was making life hard for him. In a tight opening to proceedings, it did look like we could find some joy in wide areas, Young and Valencia not doing as well in their defensive roles against their direct counterparts. Alonso crossed in for Mortata, but under pressure from the Spaniard, Jones diverted the cross into his own net. This was subsequently ruled out for a dodgy looking ‘foul’ by Morata as he pressured Jones. Soon after from the other side Zappacosta had been found in behind Young as he was caught up field, but his cross was too deep. He got behind Young again shortly after, but Bakayoko fired wide from the cross. Young showed he was a threat at the other end, crossing for Rasford to head over. Lukaku also did well to fashion a chance as he received the ball on the edge of the area and turned and shot excellently to force Courtois into a low save. At the other end, Hazard had escaped his markers when dropping deep long enough to fire at De Gea, Fabregas heading the keepers parry into the side netting.
Second half, and the opening ten minutes was very stop start. Hazard was scythed down three times in five minutes. Seeing Jones and Herrera go into the book. Chelsea started at a good tempo in the second period, and looked like they wanted it more than Manchester United all over the pitch now. Azpilicueta had come forward from the back three a couple of times in the first half, untracked by either Rashford or Lukaku, and a similar advanced forward in the second brought the decisive moment of the game. He came forward, again untracked, from his right sided centre back birth, and got as far as half way inside the opposition half, before delivering a perfectly flighted ball into the box, Morata had got free between the central defenders, and powered a fantastic header back across De Gea into the top corner. 1-0. Kante was a force in midfield, breaking down multiple Manchester United attacks. Lukaku hardly had a look in in the second period as Chelsea prevented them from building any meaningful attacks. Chelsea were on top second half, but it was still a match of fine margins.
With 25 minutes remaining Conte put Azpilicueta to wing back, and introduced Rudiger for Zappacosta. At the same time, Mourinho chose to change shape. A switch to 4-2-3-1 was made as Martial and Fellaini came on for Jones and Mkhitaryan, as Mourinho attempted to get an overload down the wings. This didn’t really materialise, although on a few occasions our midfield became stretched as we now had to pull players out to track full backs. Rashford whipped a dangerous ball in just ahead of Fellaini, while at the other end a Hazard effort was well saved by De Gea. Fellaini had their best chance of the match to level from another cross, but his volley was well saved by Courtois. As they pushed for an equaliser, Willian won the ball in midfield and played Morata in behind their centre backs. One versus one, he got the ball caught under his feet as he went around De Gea, and the defenders recovered to clear. It mattered not as there was no time remaining for Manchester United to find an equaliser, and a well-deserved three points moved us to within a point of our vanquished opponents in the league table.
Chelsea (3-5-2) 1 (Morata 55)
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill (c); Zappacosta (Rudiger 65), Kante, Fabregas (Drinkwater 78), Bakayoko, Alonso; Hazard (Willian 87), Morata.
Man United (3-5-2)
De Gea; Bailly, Jones (Fellaini 62), Smalling; Valencia, Herrera, Matic, Young (Lingard 78); Mkhitaryan (Martial 62); Rashford, Lukaku.