Manchester United catapulted themselves back into contention for the top four with a third victory over Chelsea this season to move to within three points of Frank Lampard’s side.
It was a controversial game littered with controversial VAR incidents, but there can be no denying it was a deserved win for a United side who maintained their impressive record against the top six. Chelsea had two goals disallowed and Harry Maguire got away for a high foot on Michy Batshuayi, but despite dominating possession, the Reds were clinical and scored twice from their three shots on target.
Here, we dissect the game and look at three positives and three negatives from Stamford Bridge.
Massive win in the battle for the Champions League – Solskjaer 3 Lampard 0
United came into this game six points and four places behind our hosts with two wins against Chelsea already this season. United’s problem has been against the league’s lesser lights and the tie at Stamford Bridge represented the last chance saloon for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to reignite any lingering hopes of Champions League qualification.
The Reds seized it with both hands as Ole maintained his 100% win rate against Lampard in clinical fashion. The hosts had much of the ball and the majority of chances, but David de Gea never had a save to make and it was comfortable in the end.
The first half was error strewn with United sloppy in possession and struggling for impetus. The Reds controlled the second half as the Blues ran out of ideas to throw open the race for the top four… or should that be fifth.. There’s still work to do, we have to beat Watford now but this was compelling evidence for those suggesting Solskjaer deserves more time. If United are to get into the Champions League for next season, we’ll look back on this as a pivotal night.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire have their best games in Red
This was a night when the Reds two big money summer signings came to the party. Wan-Bissaka got a filthy assist and Maguire showed why we paid £80m for him with his best game in Red. A rock at the back, he organised and held the defence together, chipping in with his first Premier League goal to put the result beyond doubt. As for AWB, he silenced the critics that said he can’t attack with a wonderful piece of skill and pinpoint cross straight on to the head of Anthony Martial. He can get forward, after all… Maguire might have fortunate to escape a red but he was otherwise imperious and shut down Chelsea’s attacking trio superbly. Maguire was signed to perform in games such as this and didn’t put a foot wrong. Magnificent. Wan – Bissaka was my man of the match closely followed by Maguire.
Eric Bailly plays 90 minutes
A footnote perhaps, but an important one as United’s Ivorian made his first appearance of the season and played a part in keeping a clean sheet. I like Bailly, there’s a good player in him but he’s made of glass and it was surprise to see him come back in such an important game after nine months out.
Made one superb challenge on Batshuayi in the second half and even nutmegged the Chelsea striker! At times looked like he’d never been away. With Victor Lindelof missing through illness, Bailly was stationed on the right of United’s front three and although understandably rusty early on, he grew into the game and will give Solskjaer food for thought. So much so, he was arguably a contender for the pick of the bunch in Red.
It wasn’t all sweetness and light however. There were still some things to chew on for Solskjaer and his men.
Dan James struggles again
The winter break looked to have come at the best possible time for United as a whole, and for Dan James in particular individually. Running on empty and through treacle, a two-week breather would give the summer signing a chance to recharge his batteries and come back as the player we saw in the early days of the season.
Instead, he was the only United player who failed to have an impact on the game – indeed, I didn’t even know he was playing until he got taken off. It’s a shame, it’s not his fault and I hope he will rediscover his mojo. We forget he’s a young lad signed from the Championship.
Martial goal fails to mask shortcomings
Anthony Martial may have grabbed the important opener with a clever header, but he was generally disappointing. Apart from the goal, he didn’t threaten enough and doesn’t appear to be the answer to United’s centre forward question. Odion Ighalo made his debut but was unlucky only to get on in stoppage time.
Some people just show no emotion, but I can’t help thinking Martial never looks like he wants to be there. He’s not a number nine, even if he does now have 13 for the season. I just want to see more from the main man, the centre forward tasked with leading the line for United. Maybe I’m being harsh and wanting him to be something he’s not, but I feel he could give more. We need a long-term replacement in the summer.
VAR controversy on contentious night
No review would be complete without a VAR discussion, with Chelsea left to feel aggrieved as they had two goals disallowed, one for a foul on Brandon Williams from a corner and the other through Olivier Giroud straying marginally offside. I thought both were harsh, in particular the latter. It’s meant to be for anything clear and obvious yet they were too close to call. Did Stockley Park get it right? We could be here all day. Lampard will of course feel his side were hard done by, but there’s a case to be had that Solskjaer’s men were helped on their way by the rub of the green.
The general consensus seems to suggest Maguire was fortunate to escape censure, but playing Devil’s Advocate I think it’s a yellow. He’s sliding, there’s no intent and where’s he supposed to put his foot? VAR denies fan the raw emotion of celebrating a goal or momentous moment and something needs to be done.