Match Report

Alvaro Morata strikes as Manchester United fall flat in a big game again

Alvaro Morata strikes as Manchester United fall flat in a big game again

LONDON — Three points on Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.

1. United challenge falls flat at Stamford Bridge

Alvaro Morata ended his six-game goal drought with a stunning second half header as Chelsea responded to their midweek Champions League humiliation at Roma with a 1-0 win against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

The defeat, United’s second in the league this season, leaves Jose Mourinho’s team eight points adrift of leaders Manchester City in second place with hopes of a title challenge fading fast.

And the result also extended United’s dismal run in front of goal against last season’s top six. Since the start of last season, United have scored just once in 630 minutes away from home in the Premier League against Chelsea, Tottenham, City, Liverpool and Arsenal — the solitary goal a consolation strike by Wayne Rooney during a 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane.

United rarely looked like scoring on this occasion either, with Marcus Rashford heading over in the first half after Romelu Lukaku forced a save from Thibaut Courtois with a turn and shot on 16 minutes.

Lukaku has now gone seven games without a goal for United and his lacklustre performance was in stark contrast to that of Morata — the player United rejected in favour of the Belgian.

Morata’s goal, his first since September, will do wonders for the Spaniard’s confidence, but the victory will be more important for his manager, Antonio Conte. The Italian is working under constant pressure due to the champions’ slow start to the season, but a win against United and Mourinho will always work in a Chelsea manager’s favour and this result will help to steady the ship.

It will do the opposite for Mourinho and United, though. Their bright start to the season has been forgotten with a series of poor displays and results. This latest failure to win, and score, against a top six rival will not help Mourinho’s mood either.

2. Eden Hazard sprinkles stardust

There were times in this game when it was pretty much the Eden Hazard Show.

Chelsea’s No.10 can blow hot and cold, both during 90 minutes and a season as a whole, but the Belgian midfielder showcased his class and growing maturity with an exceptional performance against United.

Whenever Hazard had the ball, Chelsea looked capable of picking a hole in the United defence and he picked a pass on more than one occasion to unlock the door.

He forced a fine one-handed save from David De Gea in the first half before aiming a tamer shot at the United keeper from Cesc Fabregas’ pass early in the second half.

There was also the moment after the break when Phil Jones was booked for a crude challenge on Hazard, which was one of those tackles designed to knock Chelsea’s creative force off his stride.

But Hazard is nothing if not brave, both with the ball and without it, and he was able to ride off the rough challenges to remain a constant threat to United.

His ability to dictate the tempo of a game and create openings also exposed United’s shortcomings, with Mourinho’s team depressingly light on similar qualities.

The former Chelsea manager has built a team in his own image at United — dour and obdurate — but it is now desperate for an injection of flair.

With Hazard in their team, United would be a formidable force, but without him, they are flat-footed and predictable.

3. Rashford being wasted

There is a danger that Mourinho could inadvertently damage Rashford’s confidence and halt his development if he continues to select the young forward to play out wide while Lukaku searches for form.

Mourinho has made it clear that Lukaku, without a goal since the end of September, is “untouchable” in his starting lineup, but the Belgian is struggling to justify his place.

Yet with Lukaku battling for goals and confidence, Rashford has been left to play off the former Everton forward on the left flank, cutting in when he can and using his pace to get in behind opponents.

But Rashford is being asked to do a thankless task, largely without service, and the frustration in his play is becoming evident.

At 20, he may be young, but he is no longer inexperienced and he has already proved his ability to perform and score while playing through the centre.

He is also more prepared to work the channels and pressure his opponents than Lukaku, so the time may have come for Mourinho to drop Lukaku and play Rashford through the middle.

If he doesn’t, he will risk wasting Rashford’s talent in a position where he cannot affect the game as much as if he was the centre-forward.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Match Report