LONDON — Chelsea took another tentative step towards securing the 2014-15 Premier League title on Saturday as they were out-played by Manchester United but secured a 1-0 win thanks to Eden Hazard’s first half strike.
[ RELATED: Van Gaal hails United’s “best match of season” ]
Injury-hit United can count themselves unlucky to have not got at least a point from the match, with Louis van Gaal’s side creating plenty of chances but they failed to break down a solid Chelsea outfit.
Here’s three things we learned from west London.
INJURY-HIT UNITED UNLUCKY
For most of the match United dominated the ball (they had 70 percent of possession) looked inventive going forward (had 15 shots to Chelsea’s seven) and without four first-choice defensive players, they held Chelsea at bay. But, they lost 1-0. The Red Devils did enough to win at Stamford Bridge but a combination of things conspired against them with lady luck failing to cut them a break. Well, expect for the moment David De Gea inexplicably handled outside the box to deny Hazard but got away with it. Louis van Gaal got his tactics spot on as a 4-1-4-1 saw them dictate play with Ander Herrera giving a commanding display and always wanting to get on the ball in the holding role in Michael Carrick’s absence. The one blot on Herrera’s copybook was his failure to track Hazard after Oscar’s fancy flick sit him free to score the winning goal. Wayne Rooney sprayed balls around in a deeper role and had numerous attempts which were either blocked or flew just wide.
Falcao had an effort superbly blocked by Gary Cahill in the 70th minute, smashed the woodwork moments later and the Colombian forward fired another wide after roughing up John Terry. He plugged the gaps in midfield with Kurt Zouma deployed alongside Nemanja Matic to try and quell United’s attacking threat. In a home game the league leaders played for a draw. That tells you how wary they were of an under-strength United without the injured Diego Costa. United were up for the battle but they aren’t the first and won’t be the last team to be on the end of yet another defensive masterclass from Mourinho.
HAZARD IN A CLASS OF HIS OWN
Talking of class, Eden Hazard is in a class of his own. The Belgian winger provided the game winning moment as his sublime give and go with Oscar (hat tip to the Brazilian playmaker for a mesmerizing back heel) won the game for Chelsea. Hazard is the overwhelming favorite to win the PFA Player of the Year this season and his temperament has finally reached the levels were Chelsea knows they can rely on him in the big games.
Hazard has now scored in home wins against Arsenal, Tottenham and United, with the wing-wizard finally delivering consistent displays of true class. He was substituted late in the game to a standing ovation at the Bridge as his match-winning moment was the one moment of class Chelsea needed to beat United. The 24-year-old winger should, and will, be crowned the best player in the Premier League for the 2014-15 season. Has anyone got a problem with that?
SHAW BACK ON COURSE
Luke Shaw’s fitness was a huge issue when he first arrived at United as the “most expensive teenager in the world” last summer. The England international, 19, has been in and out of United’s team with various hamstring and muscle injuries in his debut season at Old Trafford but on Saturday, against the team he supported as a boy growing up in south west London, Shaw put in perhaps his most accomplished display in a United shirt. He hadn’t played a game in five weeks and was thrust into the lineup due to United’s severe injury problems in defense. Early on he surged forward down United’s left flank and caught out Oscar’s lack of defensive cover for Branislav Ivanovic along with Ashley Young. After three minutes Shaw surged forward and delivered a wonderful pull back to Rooney who curled the ball just wide. As the game wore on, he continued to get on the ball more and made those 30-45 yard runs which were his trademark at Saints.
In the 76th minute Shaw delivered a defense-splitting pass which found Radamel Falcao in the box. The weight of the pass was perfect and the Colombian forward turned on the ball and rattled the woodwork in one movement as United’s bad luck continue on the day. Shortly after Shaw was subbed off by LVG, but as he got to the bench his manager made a point of congratulating him on his performance. Shaw has had a season of struggle when it comes to injury and settling in at United, but his display on Saturday proved his mercurial talent is still intact and he’s back on the right track.