There’s no doubt that Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho arrived at his old home of Stamford Bridge with a game plan to beat Chelsea. It was probably aimed at producing another workmanlike performance similar to the one at Anfield that enabled United to walk away with a point. We’ll never really know what the strategy was, however, because when you concede in the first 30 seconds all plans are out the window.
Although it very much is not the United way, there is nothing wrong with being defensive, but it does reduce the margin of error moderately. Mourinho was rightly praised for United’s defensive solidity on Monday evening against Liverpool but must be condemned for the way in which his team were unable to hold out against Chelsea.
The first 20 minutes were a disaster for United and Antonio Conte’s team were presented with an open door to stroll through and take all 3 points. Chelsea scored twice and could have scored many more times, as all members of the defensive unit were guilty of making rudimentary errors. Although Daley Blind and David De Gea need to take their fair share of the blame, Chris Smalling had an afternoon he’d like to forget and was clearly at fault for allowing Pedro to score the fastest goal in the Premier League this season.
Having set the standard for defending within the first minute, this normally stingy United defence managed to concede the second goal of the afternoon through a lack of concentration. Smalling was again at fault as he turned his back on the ball and after Ander Herrera was fooled by a deflection, Gary Cahill was able to meet the ball and smash home.
The 3rd goal by Eden Hazard killed any hope United had of getting back into the game and reminded us all of the Eden Hazard that won the PFA Player of the Year award in 2014-15, rather than the timid player that we saw last season. Once Hazard took a touch in the United penalty area you just knew he was going to move the ball outside Smalling and lash it into the net to take Chelsea out of sight.
Kante has more licence to join in the attack these days and displayed a previously unseen ability of dancing around the Red Devil’s defence before guiding the ball past De Gea for Chelsea’s 4th.
Mourinho Under Pressure
This was Manchester United’s worst league defeat at this ground in 17 years, and the heaviest defeat for Mourinho in all competitions since losing 5-0 against Barcelona in November 2010.
These are worrying times for Jose Mourinho as United have played three teams of the six above them and taken only one point. After the latest Premier League results the gap to the top five places is already five points, and Mourinho’s team have won one of their last six league games. Most worrying of all, despite significant investment this summer, United have taken fewer points this season than in the same fixtures last year under Louis van Gaal.
What should be the biggest concern for Mourinho was that Chelsea did not even need to be at their best to win. The early goal did help, but that and a number of other chances came about largely through United’s own defensive mistakes rather than Chelsea’s virtuosity in attack.
It’s just one defeat, but The Red Devils have spent big on players such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba, yet they look pedestrian and cautious against the traditionally top four teams in the league and occasionally mundane against opponents they should be blowing away.
Mourinho has faced adversity before and United’s players and fans must believe that he has the ability to dust himself off and find a solution to move United up the table.
He could take heart from Chelsea manager Conte, who deserves admiration for changing Chelsea’s structure following inadequate results against Liverpool and Arsenal. Since the Italian switched to 3 at the back his team have won all three games without conceding a goal and the players seem comfortable and are excelling in both attack and defence. Mourinho must scrutinise his team and hope that a system becomes visible to him, as an improvement is needed fast.