5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 2-0 Chelsea


1. Best Performance of the Season

Sunday brought with it a result and performance that even the staunchest United fan would have found hard to predict. After some pretty blunt displays from United at home this season and with half an eye on the Europa League, Chelsea would have been confident of coming away with three points – particularly after the previous encounters between the two sides this season.

However, what they will not have factored in was the system that they were to come up against and the fight and discipline shown by the United players to fulfil their roles and to win their individual battles. To a man United were far and away superior. Sure, luck played a part in the victory – however it wouldn’t take an eagle-eyed observer to point out that United were due a fair share of luck after some of the games that have gone by this season. All told, the score line flattered Chelsea.

2. The Mourinho Effect

Question marks have been raised this season, following on from last season, as to whether Jose Mourinho’s ‘special one’ tag is still relevant. It has been a logical question to ask given Chelsea’s demise last season and United’s relatively sub-standard campaign this year in spite of heavy summer spend.

We haven’t seen Mourinho’s Midas touch on the big games like we were used to in the past, such as in his first Chelsea spell on countless occasions or on the road to guiding Inter Milan to an unlikely Champions League triumph, with tactical masterclasses away to the likes of Barcelona which elevated his profile to extremes.

Easter Sunday saw a resurrection of Jose’s Midas touch. It was in short, a tactical masterclass. Not only were Chelsea completely nullified in attack, but they were helpless to United’s own counter attacks – with United and Mourinho schooling Chelsea and Conte at their own game.

With a number of big games coming up for United both domestically and in Europe, it is essential that Mourinho keeps getting it right until the season closes in May.

3. Herrera – Future Captain

This probably wasn’t a newfound learning stemming solely from Sunday’s match, but Herrera’s showing will have strengthened the growing belief that he is a more than suitable candidate to be a future United captain.

Herrera’s performance had shades of Roy Keane about it in his drive, leadership and keeping the others on their toes and on fulfilling their roles. An iconic image that has since emerged of Herrera mid-celebration of Rashford’s goal switching his focus back on the task at hand had Keane written all over it. Many have wittily claimed that Herrera’s gaze was pointed towards a certain Eden Hazard at that moment – joking aside, I wouldn’t have been surprised if that was the case such was Herrera’s job on Chelsea’s key man. Hazard didn’t get an inch of space and subsequently his threat was completely nullified.

Aside from the leadership aspect and his discipline in fulfilling his role, Herrera also was the key contributor in attack for United at the weekend. His pass to Rashford for United’s opener was weighted perfectly. He then added United’s second, and killer goal, aided by a deflection.  Should Herrera produce more performances like Sunday it won’t be long before he becomes the next box to box centre midfielder in line to wear the United armband following on from Robson and Keane.

4. Rojo and Bailly works, somehow

When judging Rojo and Bailly individually, most United fans would probably advocate the talents of both individually as centre backs, however would probably advise that both would have to have a cool head playing beside them. With injuries wiping the other options out, the unlikely partnership has been formed and it has worked a treat.  In truth, Rojo and Bailly have individually been United’s best defenders this season, however it’s still a surprise that the partnership has worked so well – and that no legs have been broken!

Age is on both of their sides for the partnership to develop for years to come. Smalling and Jones will have something to say about that, however aside from being less injury ridden, Rojo and Bailly possess an attitude and character that Smalling and Jones severely lack. Mourinho is clearly seeking bigger personalities and characters within the squad therefore you can the partnership being allowed to further develop.

There have been calls for United to sign a centre back this summer, however between the four aforementioned options and a certain Axel Tuanzebe in reserve, we should be well stocked to cope without another addition.

5. The difference of having pace in attack

Mourinho surprisingly opted for Marcus Rashford ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimović on Sunday. It was a surprise in the sense that Mourinho has been extremely loyal to Zlatan all season, resisting the urge to mix things up with other options such as Rashford or Martial offering something very different.

In Mourinho getting it right on Sunday by opting for Rashford, it also raises the question as to whether more points would have been won this season had he mixed it up a bit more frequently. Rashford’s pace was a constant menace for Chelsea’s defence, who were likely drilled on dealing with a 35 year old, 6 foot 5 Swede in the lead up to the game.

Rashford’s pace also offered United the perfect platform to play a counter attack game that had shades of Leicester City about it with Rashford playing the role of Vardy to a tee (minus the arrogance) and Lingard playing Okazaki in the support role, pressing Chelsea high and offering plenty of energy in support of Rashford.

One hopes that Mourinho will continue to mix it up for the remaining games, particularly with Rashford having re-found his touch in front of goal. Rashford’s movement, touches and finish for the opener on Saturday were all top class. His overall contribution was also in the world class bracket. Forget about drooling over Mbappe – we have our own superstar at Old Trafford that needs to be gushed over.

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