Antonio Conte‘s was outdone by Jose Mourinho, only just, as the artist formerly known as “The Special One” had the plan and got the required bounces for a big Premier League win on Sunday.
[ RECAP: Man Utd 2-1 Chelsea ]
Manchester United beat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford, and here are our main takeaways.
Mourinho turns back the hands of tactical time
Manchester United’s boss has rightly been judged for his tactical acumen and organization this year, and not just for perceived parking of proverbial buses.
But Mourinho outfoxed his old nemesis Sunday with a series of changes that weren’t always about the flow of the game as much as keeping Conte’s Chelsea off balance.
Already prepared to play more than usual, United showed inspired work through the middle of the pitch and Paul Pogba was given a bit more freedom and responded by doing a lot of little things right.
The Jesse Lingard sub obviously worked out for the best as the Englishman scored the go-ahead goal, and the introduction of Eric Bailly for his first extended run since Halloween turned out to be an inspired risk.
Lukaku delivers (and delivers)
The big Belgian striker had a dozen goals but none against the Top Six sides of the Premier League before Sunday’s match at Old Trafford.
Lukaku started and finished the equalizer, and then worked well down the right flank before hitting a pinpoint cross for Lingard to head home. That was the one, really, that turned the story line in his favor.
That it came against his old club will feel wonderful.
It’s worth noting that Lukaku did have an assist against Spurs and a goal against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, but he entered the match with just those numbers and a 2-2-2 record against Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, and Arsenal.
Conte unlucky, not rewarded by Morata
Spanish forward Alvaro Morata got the start in place of in-form Pedro, as Antonio Conte decided against the so-called “false 9” which has served his club well in recent week.
It has to be said: Morata’s hard early volley off the cross bar makes Conte’s choice look better if it gets the Charlie Conway “quarter of an inch the other way” treatment, but Hollywood wasn’t on the scene here.
Pedro did provide some love off the bench, but it was not enough as Manchester United’s big man ultimately delivered what Chelsea’s target man could not.
Some of Conte’s choices did work out fine: Antonio Rudiger had some key moments, and who knows what happens had play been stopped when Andreas Christensen went head-to-head with Lukaku ahead of the Belgian’s goal.
And it’s worth noting that Conte’s sub of Fabregas had a chance to match Mourinho’s perceived brilliance with Lingard but was ruled just offside.
Conte didn’t necessarily lose this game of inches, but Mourinho made the moves that won it. It could simply be that some matches are just not to be.