Owners of Manchester United assets were encouraged by the Red Devils’ return to winning ways on Monday night.
After their first defeat under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer against PSG in the Champions League last week, they progressed to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup with a 2-0 win at Chelsea.
Manchester United had not won at Stamford Bridge since the Sir Alex Ferguson era, demonstrating once again how far the Red Devils have come since Solskjaer took over.
Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United
Goals: Ander Herrera (£5.0m), Paul Pogba (£8.8m)
Assists: Pogba, Marcus Rashford (£7.8m)
Paul Pogba (£8.8m) was the star performer for Manchester United in their 2-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. He was heavily involved in both goals as his resurgence under Solskjaer’s continues at a frightening pace. For the opening strike, Pogba drifted to the left flank and sprayed an exquisite cross all the way to the back post, where Ander Herrera (£5.0m) darted in to score a header. Solskjaer himself was behind the move, reportedly ushering Pogba into that area of the field from the sidelines before the goal. The left side of the pitch was where Pogba had a great deal of joy playing for Juventus, which might explain why Solskjaer worked on it in training.
“Well, we’ve had a couple of good days of training. Of course, you want him to see space, and find space.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
It was Pogba who started and finished the move for the second goal. It began with an incisive through ball from central midfield, which released Marcus Rashford (£7.8m) down the right flank. Pogba then raced into the penalty box to rise highest and direct the England international’s cross into the net.
Solskjaer made a point of highlighting Pogba’s troubles against PSG when praising him after the Chelsea win. In the Champions League, the Frenchman was often surrounded by opposition players and stopped from playing his game, while he was also sent off. It says a lot about Manchester United’s caretaker manager, in contrast to his predecessor, that Pogba was fully trusted to lead the attack again in another important fixture.
“He (Pogba) had a tough game against PSG, but I thought he was probably our best player, he had two or three players around him all the time. Tonight, great response. Of course, he’s playing against one of the best defensive midfielders in the world with [N’Golo] Kante next to him, I thought today he found the spaces. We know he’s one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, he’s got the vision, the player view. The cross for Ander’s goal, fantastic, then again he plays it out to Marcus and way he gets into the box, fantastic.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
“The team helped me get to my best. I give everything for them. They help me score goals and to make assists. We are just enjoying playing together. We are Manchester United. We play to win trophies. He [Solskjaer] took this job because he can do it. He trusts us and we trust him. Obviously, we go for it, and we never know if we are going to win. We go to win.” – Paul Pogba
It was also a great night for central midfielder Herrera, who is another player thriving under Solskjaer. He has been afforded a more roaming advanced role of late, which is what led to his run for the opening goal. However, Solskjaer spoke about him in glowing terms with regards to his entire display against Chelsea and it sounds like he has reached undroppable status for the Norwegian.
“Ander was allowed more freedom to roam forward, lately he’s been asked to sit. Today we needed more arrivals in the box because of Marcus [Rashford] and Rom [Lukaku] being wider as well. His energy and tenaciousness is vital for us. And that’s why he plays, more or less, every single game. He has loads of energy, he can cover the right-hand side, he runs forward. Tonight you can’t just praise one, it’s 11 players, plus the subs, but Ander has done fantastic.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Anyone concerned about Solskjaer’s tactical knowledge will have been greatly encouraged by the decisions he made for the Chelsea match. Not only did he usher Pogba into positions that led to the opening goal, but he also deployed a midfield system that cut Chelsea’s supply off at the source. It was thought that Alexis Sánchez (£10.0m) might get a chance of starting with Anthony Martial (£7.2m) and Jesse Lingard (£6.7m) still out injured. However, Solskjaer started Juan Mata (£6.1m) at the most advanced tip of the midfield diamond, tasking him with pressurising Jorginho (£4.7m), David Luiz (£5.9m) and Antonio Rüdiger (£6.0m), to great success.
“There are different ways of stopping a team, and they’ve got so many good players. Juan did a fantastic job between the two centre-backs and Jorginho. He ran his socks off and stopped Luiz when he had to and stopped Jorginho when he had to, and went up to Rudiger a few times, Juan’s work rate was phenomenal.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
It was another difficult match for Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri, who faces increasing pressure at Stamford Bridge. Monday’s performance that was not particularly encouraging for Fantasy managers considering signing Chelsea assets for Blank Gameweek 31, when they travel to face an equally out-of-form Everton.
Against Manchester United, while they had more possession, the Blues were plagued by the usual problems of recent weeks. Their style of play continues to look far away from the Sarri-ball expected by their manager. There still seems to be no plan B once Jorginho is closed down, and defensively Chelsea simply weren’t good enough.
Marcos Alonso (£6.5m) was very much at fault for Herrera’s opening goal as he did not track the midfielder’s run, who was able to head into the net unchallenged. That was not the first time Chelsea defenders have been sloppy in defending their penalty box against forays from midfield, and it wasn’t even the last time in this match. Pogba was able to start and finish the move for the second goal with very little resistance from the back-line. They are, of course, not helped by the fact that one of the best deep midfielders in world football N’Golo Kanté (£5.0m) is being asked to play a more advanced position and if that continues, there seems little value in Chelsea defensive assets for Blank Gameweek 31 on current form.
However, Sarri seems unlikely to change that as he has always defended deploying Jorginho in the deeper role and using Kanté more in the attacking phase. He also praised Luiz for his leadership qualities after the match.
“I think David [Luiz] is a leader, we need all to improve because I am not able to get out of my players a very high level of aggressiveness.” – Maurizio Sarri
Sarri also pointed to Chelsea’s greater share of possession and shots as reasons to be positive. However, his comments probably do more to provide encouragement for Fantasy managers that Manchester United are slowly increasing in defensive capabilities under Solskjaer.
“In the first half we played well. We need more aggressiveness, more determination in the situation inside our box and inside the opposite box because the difference was there. We played 78 balls in the opposite box and United played only 16 in ours and the result was 2-0 so there was a difference. In the second half it was difficult because they are physical, defended very low and compact so we played confusing football in the second half.” – Maurizio Sarri
As the pressure mounts on Sarri, comments on the players from his post-match press conference have sparked further scrutiny of the situation at Stamford Bridge. Asked if the players were still “with” him, the Italian did not seem as sure as he was a few weeks ago.
“I think so, I am not sure but I think so. The situation with the players is really good for their relationship, but the relationship is not so important. It’s important to play and get the results but my relationship with my players at the moment is good.” – Maurizio Sarri
The only slight silver lining on the night for Chelsea was the performance of Gonzalo Higuaín (£9.5m), who was unlucky not to score in the first half. Although he had just one shot on target in the second period, the Argentinian was praised for his good movement by the local press. With Higuaín offering something that predecessors Álvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud (£7.7m) could not, it does provide encouragement for the future, especially with a Chelsea asset potentially begrudgingly needed for Blank Gameweek 31.
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Kepa; Alonso, D Luiz, Rüdiger, Azpilicueta (Zappacosta 82′); Kovačić (Barkley 71′), Jorginho, Kanté; Hazard, Higuaín, Pedro (Willian 58′).
Manchester United XI (4-3-1-2): Romero; Shaw, Lindelöf, Smalling, Young; Pogba, Matić, Herrera; Mata (A Pereira 76′); Lukaku (A Sánchez 73′), Rashford (McTominay 90+4′).
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