Is this an Easter Sunday revival? Manchester United defied the odds and convincingly, yes convincingly, beat league leaders Chelsea at Old Trafford. Goals from Marcus Rashford and stand-out performer, Ander Herrera sealed a massive three points for the Reds, whose quest for a top four finish is still very much alive. Mourinho’s team selection raised more than a few eyebrows as both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were benched. My initial thoughts were that the Boss had given up on trying to reach the top four and rather he wanted to throw all his Easter eggs into the Europa League basket. However, whether that was the case or not, the decision to start Rashford up top turned out to be a stroke of genius.
United got off to a dream start in the 7th minute as Herrera played a delightful ball in-between the centre backs after a bit of basketball. Rashford had made the run to take it away from Luiz and finished past the stand-in Begovic. In all fairness it was what United deserved from the first half. They played by pressing high and with an intense physicality that Chelsea couldn’t handle. Herrera, Pogba and Fellaini were all superb in the centre of midfield and made Kante, Matic and Pedro look bang average. Lingard and Rashford made Chelsea’s back three play the ball early and more often than not – long. United defended brilliantly by getting touch tight to Costa and Hazard each time the ball was played into them and the atmosphere was electric from the first whistle to the last. Both the crowd and the team helped each other. The Old Trafford faithful got behind the team and had the place bouncing, which was easy to do when the team offered so much fight and work ethic. Both aspects of the game which United have lacked greatly at home this season.
I feared that intensity and pressure would drop in the second half. Thankfully I was wrong and it was more of the same. As the sun broke out in Manchester, United double their lead just four minutes in as Young (captain for the day, no idea why) did well to drive into the box before laying the ball off to Herrera, whose low shot deflected off the foot of Kurt Zouma and wrong-footed Begovic to make it 2-0. A vital second goal which allowed Mourinho to bring on the calming influence of Carrick with half an hour to go and to shut up shop, as he so well countless times when managing Chelsea.
It was a victory the Boss will thoroughly enjoy for personal reasons as well as professional ones. A victory which keeps the Reds within touching distance of the top four despite a tricky last seven games, in which three are against team within the top four – don’t be surprised if they sneak in there providing they can take this performance and build upon it in the final weeks.
Up next for United is a crucial second-leg Europa League Quarter-Final tie against Anderlecht at Old Trafford. With a fully rested Zlatan and Mhkitaryan, I’m confident we will be in the draw for the semis. But for now, I’m going to sit back with a beer and watch and chuckle at Tony Adams’ attempt to manage a struggling La Liga side, while basking in the glory of today’s result.