The atmosphere crackled with anticipation at Old Trafford as the much-awaited Sunday evening finally arrived for fans of two of the biggest clubs in England. Having lost some of their sheen in recent years due to Manchester City and Liverpool’s amazing exploits, the conversation for Manchester United and Chelsea has mostly revolved around recapturing their glories of the previous decade.
Helmed by two club legends in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard, these two England giants are anything but title contenders at present, but that did not dampen the excitement of the fans at the prospect of creation of newer legacies. While Chelsea were forced to taste the first sample of life after Eden Hazard, Manchester United were eager to put a quirky transfer window behind them.
Ninety minutes later, Chelsea had suffered their worst defeat at the Old Trafford since 1965 and Solksjaer had a look of relief painted on his features for his team got away with yet another mediocre start to their game, but the mood was anything but a Debbie downer for either sets of fans, for even the losing visitors dared to hope in promise of a better future.
The 4-0 scoreline during which Marcus Rashford found the back of the net twice and even helped Anthony Martial get on the scoresheet while Daniel James’ debut goal was a moment of exuberant celebrations, does not however regale the entire story.
Frank Lampard, taking charge of his former club for the first time in a competitive fixture, fielded the youngest side in the past seven seasons. His hands tied by the transfer ban combined with injuries to the likes of Antonio Rudiger, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Lampard chose to hand out Premier League starts to Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, while both Pedro and Ross Barkley were favoured over Christian Pulisic. David Luiz’s deadline day shenanigans meant Kurt Zouma slotted in at centre-half alongside the highly-rated Andreas Christensen.
Solksjaer fielded the expected attacking trifecta of Martial, Rashford and Jesse Lingard while inclusions of Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira alongside Paul Pogba did not surprise long-time followers of Solksjaer. Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, two of the prized assets United picked up this summer were handed their club debuts in a statement of authority.
While the starting line-ups and the eventual scoreline both suggested United’s dominance and quality, it was Chelsea who flourished during the opening exchanges. Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic took control of the midfield while Mason Mount repaid the faith entrusted upon him by his manager and the fans. The youngster commanded the ball with the elan of a player mature far beyond his age and Manchester United were visibly on the backfoot for the entire first half of play.
Chelsea hit the post twice – Abraham in particular coming close to scoring on quite a few occasions, a testament to the talent present but as often is the case in matches of such proportions, experience often laughs the last laugh. Maguire and Victor Lindelof soaked up all the early pressure during a phase when United were still struggling to sew a string of passes together. Goals were always going to be a problem for the visitors with the departure of Hazard, their constant source of magic in an otherwise conservative team and the absence of Loftus-Cheek and Willian only contributed to that. It was, however, impressive to watch how a team comprising mostly of inexperienced Premier League players took the game to United in their own den.
The lack of urgency in the initial stages could be a cause of concern for the Red Devils against better sides and it wasn’t until Rashford converted his spot-kick awarded due to Zouma’s clumsiness that Manchester United looked like a force to be reckoned with. The goal not only settled United’s nerves, but helped them carve open the visitors in the second half as Chelsea chased the game. Still, they hung to their minuscule lead by a bare-thread until after the hour mark when two collective defensive lapses from Chelsea allowed the hosts to settle the game through a counter-attacking rampage. For the first one, Anthony Martial scored a classic poacher’s goal while Rashford’s second of the night was more due to Chelsea skipper Cesar Azpilicueta’s poor positioning.
“As we said to the boys before the game, we have found the way we want to play and a way we believe in,” an ecstatic Solksjaer told reporters after the game. “You’ve just got to go out and do the same. We took risks but that’s the way here. You have got to go for it. It’s risk and reward and today we were rewarded,” opined the Manchester United boss.
Chelsea were brilliant with the ball at their feet, constantly probing and prodding until the last minute, the lack of a proven world-class attacker definitely hurting their cause, but it was the dearth of compactness in their defensive system which facilitated their defeat. Extremely poor in defensive transitions, Lampard’s Chelsea were found lacking on both of the vital aspects of modern defending – curbing out space for the opposition to operate in and their challenges on one-on-one situations.
Or as Lampard put it quite aptly, “Football is won and lost in the boxes. They won in our box by being clinical. We had so many more shots than them and attacking entries and getting high up the pitch. That was where we let ourselves down in not putting the chances away.”
Lacking in both numbers and quality, Chelsea have an uphill task ahead of them should they wish to finish strongly even in this season of transition, but things are bound to get easier with the return of some of their key players in imminent future. The Chelsea hierarchy may have to look past their persistent thirst of silverware for this one season as the transfer ban has offered one of their legendary players to finally integrate the uber-talented youngsters graduating from arguably one of the finest academy in England, but if the first thirty minutes under the cloudy skies of Manchester on Sunday were any indication, it will be well worth the wait.
Updated Date: Aug 12, 2019 12:43:45 IST