Manchester United v Chelsea: match report


Jose Mourinho produced a tactical masterclass. His side were smarter, sharper and more ruthless than their opponents in every department and showed fans and critics alike what he can do when the big matches roll round. The game in question here, though, was Chelsea’s 3-1 destruction of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United almost 12 years ago. On that day Mourinho enhanced his reputation further as Chelsea marched towards a record-breaking triumph in the Premier League.


12 years is a lifetime in football and this time, Mourinho seems like he is rebuilding his once unquestionable reputation. The Portuguese managed his best Man United game yet as he got the better of rival Antonio Conte in a feisty encounter. Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera got the goals in what turned out to be a convincing 2-0 victory at Old Trafford and perhaps gives new life to their top four ambitions as well as the title race.


The Special One sprung surprises on Easter Sunday choosing to leave star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the bench and lining up in a 4-2-2 set-up with Rashford and Jese Lingard up front. Ander Herrera was tasked with marrying himself to Eden Hazard – flashbacks of the F.A. Cup tie where the Spaniard was given his marching orders after a late challenge on the Belgian may have had Man United fans worried. Not so this time as the tenacious midfielder stuck to his task diligently and frustrated the Chelsea talisman in an all-action man of the match performance.


Mourinho’s men flew out of the traps at Old Trafford with the pace and understanding between Rashford and Lingard causing problems for the Chelsea back three. The game was not even ten minutes old when Herrera stole possession – questionably as big shouts for handball appeared to be justified – before sliding an excellent ball in behind for Rashford to chance and calmly finish. A goal move unable to materialise, perhaps, if Ibrahimovic was spearheading the attack.


Diego Costa, often the subject of many subplots throughout Mourinho’s time at Chelsea, yet has seemed more measured under Conte, showed his unsavoury side yet again. The brutish Spanish striker found himself embroiled in battles with United’s defensive duo Marcus Rojo and Eric Bailly. His frustrations earned him a yellow card after a late challenge on Pogba.


Chelsea looked unusually unfocused, drawn into Manchester United’s clever mind games and acts of street-smarts. The focus was so much lacking that Gary Cahill was more attentive in hauling Lingard up from the ground during the build up to Herrera doubling United’s advantage.


It took Chelsea 45 minutes to muster their first effort on goal albeit a frustrated lash from Costa.


Whatever Conte’s half time message was to his flat Chelsea side at the forefront of it must have been not to concede another goal early in the second half. However, some three minutes into the second period they found themselves further behind. Chelsea failed to clear their lines once more and Ashley Young, who was given the captain’s armband for the occasion, drove into the Chelsea penalty area before another failed clearance fell to Herrera. The Spaniard, the beneficiary of two slices of good fortune after his alleged handball in the first half for his assist for Rashford’s goal, arrowed his shot through a crowd of players which ricocheted off player’s in blue shirts on its way past Asmir Begovic in the Chelsea goal.


Before the hour mark Conte attempted to turn the tide in this giant game of chess. Cesc Fabregas came on to offer much needed creativity in place of Victor Moses, asked to operate out of the other full-back position after a pre-game injury to Marcos Alonso.


Mourinho countered with a tactical change of his own, sacrificing pace for control, as he brought on Michael Carrick for Lingard. The switch left Rashford isolated but that did not stop the young England centre forward from hustling and bustling his was up front and making life uncomfortable for the Chelsea defenders.


N’golo Kante failed to get his usual grip in midfield, partly due to the excellence of Mauroane Fellaini and Herrera in midfield scurrying around refusing to give the Chelsea key players a moments rest. Matteo Darmian found himself handcuffed to Pedro on the other side of the field refusing to let the former Barcelona wide man find space to operate in.


Mourinho’s side could have filled their boots in truth, Rashford smashed an effort into the side netting and Young spurned two excellent chances from the edge of the area to inflict more misery onto Conte’s men. England manager Gareth Southgate was in the stands and will have been impressed with what he saw from the Manchester United English trio – especially in a new tactical set-up.


Rashford was brought off with just two minutes of time remaining to a standing ovation and allowed Ibrahimovic to get on in a cameo appearance.


Conte pleaded with his side to push forward in the closing stages but by that point United had become water tight, refusing to give an inch.


The final whistle brought with it a rapturous ovation, it was perhaps the most complete United performance since the days of Ferguson, and certainly the best day so far in Mourinho’s time as Man United manager. The former Chelsea boss could not have asked for much more in a week where his side have a vital away goal in the Europa League quarter-final against Anderlecht capped off by a monumental league victory over what many believe to be the champions elect. Mourinho was at his meticulous best – substituting captain Young fully knowing it would take the winger-turned-full-back more time to exit the field due to him passing on the armband.


United fans chanted Mourinho’s name in unison clearly buoyed the masterful display. The same fans which were often sickened by Mourinho bringing his Chelsea teams to Old Trafford and furthering his reputation as The Special One now get to experience perhaps what is come down long road ahead.


Never write off the Italians, their defensive master class could take them all the way


during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Belgium and Italy at Stade des Lumieres on June 13, 2016 in Lyon, France.

It’s a cliché that surfaces every tournament: never write off the Italians. On paper Belgium were the class of Group E but tournament experience counts for a lot. Antonio Conte drew up the perfect game plan and complied the most professional performance of the Euros so far.


Most teams competing in France over the next month boast blockbuster attacks yet look flaky at the back. The best form of defence is attack seems to be the status quo for many but not the Italians. The best form of attack is defence.


Conte went with a back four (including the goalkeeper) that plied their trade all with Italian champions Juventus. Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini provided the bedrock of a solid 2-0 victory in Lyon.


If the Italians are to go the distance and remedy their Euro 2012 final hammering at the hands of Spain it will come through all the things they displayed on Monday night.


A stout, smothering defensive display such as the one Chiellini and company produced would not have been possible without such a great understanding. The Juventus defence conceded just 20 goals on their way to winning their fifth Serie A title. It was a lesson to all watching how a great unit operates. Seamlessly transitioning and covering it was like seeing the inner workings of a fine Swiss watch.


The very few times one of the defensive trio was caught out of position their experience immediately kicked in. Clever fouls and taking yellow cards for the team helped stifle Belgium. Unsporting though it may be in the eyes of purists the Italians are not in France to win fans – there competing to win a European Championship.


Entering the final 20 minutes some of the defending – maybe that word should be put in the biggest quotation marks possible – was designed to destroy Belgium’s attacking verve. Bonucci was booked for a challenge on Divock Origi while striker Eder executed a textbook WWE style neck breaker on Eden Hazard as the Chelsea man sprung free.


Now me writing an article on Italians being good defensively would be as obvious as telling you that Usain Bolt is quite fast. But this was different. It was progressive no destructive. Bonucci’s sublime ball over the top for Emanuele Giaccherini’s opening goal was a fine long pass rather than a hoof up field. Later in the game Bonucci then ran 50 yards through the heart of the Belgian team. This was defence with every purpose of setting up attacking moves – not just clearing their lines.


Four years ago it was the creativity of Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Candreva teamed with the brilliant Mario Balotelli propelled the Azzurri to the final with an impressive victory over the Germans in the semi-finals.


This time around the tune has changed. Organisation, tactical adjustments, great togetherness and diligent defending are the DNA of Conte’s Italy. A manager who as a player stressed hard work over everything.

‘Eat grass’ is his motto – meaning to cover every blade of grass and no player typified that than Sunderland outcast Emanuele Giaccherini. He’ll be remembered for his classy opening goal but after that he simply did not stop running. Hassling the Belgians like a pesky wasp in defence and attempting to sting them in attack he embodied what Conte demands from this group of players.


This Italian side are all the things Conte was as a player: lacking  technical ability on the ball but hard working and intelligent.


From what has been on show so far in France many teams have set up with the intention of their attack setting the tone. Italy by contrast choose to build from their defence. A calming, solid base with an telepathic bond on the pitch. And from that they did produce some easy on the eye football. Candreva, Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle all gave the Belgian backline palpitations and it could have been more than three had the Azzurri been sharper in their finishing.


Italy may be tested more against a team with great chemistry up front. Belgium’s attacking talent mixed about as well as sulphuric acid and bleach – one for the science lovers. It was toxic basically. Romelu Lukaku was abject, Kevin De Bryune frustrated and Hazard picked up from where he left off with his domestic form.


However with Conte’s tactical brilliance and a team spirit which was clear for all to see at the full time whistle Italy could surprise many. What’s that old saying? Never write off the Italians.