LONDON — Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as the Blues breathed new life into their Premier League campaign.
[ MORE: Rivalry renewed – Conte v Mourinho ]
Alvaro Morata’s second half header was enough to beat Jose Mourinho’s men with United starting the game well but then pinned back by Chelsea after the opening 30 minutes.
The win sees Chelsea move just one point behind second-place United heading into the international break, while Manchester City’s lead at the top of the table has now been increased to eight points.
Here’s what we learned from a lively encounter in west London.
MORATA A MENACE
Even though he was adjudged to have fouled Phil Jones early on as the United center back shanked a clearance into his own net to score a spectacular own goal, Alvaro Morata had set the tone early.
The Spaniard was a menace for United’s defense all afternoon.
After his comments during the week to the Italian media which seemed to suggest he wasn’t enjoying life in London, Morata needed a big display. He delivered.
Morata’s towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross — the fifth time he and his countryman have linked up this season for a goal and an assist — won the game for Chelsea to lift some of the growing gloom around Antonio Conte‘s side following their 3-0 shellacking at AS Roma on Tuesday in the Champions League.
Morata had missed chances at Roma and at Bournemouth in recent weeks but despite his wastefulness he has eight goals in 15 games for Chelsea. Not a bad ratio for a striker still adjusting to life in the PL.
More impressive than his goal was Morata’s ability to bully United’s defense. In the first half he charged into Jones with a good old fashioned shoulder barge and sent the bustling United center back to the ground.
At times this season Morata’s inability to mix it up in the Premier League has been questioned. As a direct replacement for Diego Costa (a man who “mixed it up” for a living) Morata was said to be soft. On Sunday he was not with the only blot on his copybook getting it all wrong as he raced in on goal in stoppage time when he only had David De Gea to beat.
UNITED TOO CONCERNED WITH CHELSEA
Despite early promise where Romelu Lukaku had a smart turn and shot saved and then Marcus Rashford nodded just over, United were never in the game after the opening 30 minutes. Don’t let the scoreline fool you.
Mourinho was ushering Bailly to step high on Hazard when United had the ball in Chelsea’s half from the very first whistle.
Once again, in a big game, United’s approach was too defensive and this time they didn’t get the result they wanted.
After a 0-0 draw at Liverpool and a 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho’s defensive masterclass didn’t work against Chelsea.
Maybe if he focused more on getting the ball to Lukaku and Rashford and involving Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the game they’d have forced the issue more than they did. Lukaku was a spectator for most of this game and will no doubt receive plenty of criticism for once again not delivering in a big game against a top six side, but he had little to no service.
Then again, this was a Mourinho team set up to play away from home in a defensive formation with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia at wing back, three center backs and two holding midfielders. What else did we expect?
KANTE CONTINUES TO MAKE CHELSEA TICK
The last month has been a long one for Chelsea. That’s because they’ve been without N'Golo Kante.
In the six games Chelsea were without Kante in October, they only kept one clean sheet.
Kante, the reigning PFA Player of the Year, returned from a hamstring injury on Sunday and dominated midfield. The French international was everywhere, snapping at the heels of Lukaku and Rashford whenever they dropped back and stepping into defensive gaps when Gary Cahill or Azpilicueta surged forward.
He also kept Nemanja Matic (who has been a pivotal figure for United since he transfer from Chelsea in the summer) quiet as the diminutive Frenchman dominated in midfield.
We all know how important Kante is but his first lengthy injury spell of the last two seasons since he arrived in the PL proved it.
Chelsea are a completely different team with Kante in midfield and their defensive solidity is down to him. No one player makes a team but one player can make a heck of a difference. See: Kante, N’Golo.