Report: United 4 Chelsea 1
Manchester United confirmed our place in the top four of the Premier League after cruising past Chelsea with a 4-1 win at Old Trafford.
Casemiro gave us the perfect start with a towering header from a Christian Eriksen set-piece after just six minutes, and while the visitors provided an intermittent threat in the first half – particularly as the break drew closer – United laid another blow at a crucial time as Anthony Martial doubled our lead deep into stoppage time.
Erik ten Hag’s side came out strongly again after the interval, dominating the play but for David De Gea being called into a couple of saves, and the Theatre of Dreams turned jubilant as we steamed ahead with two more goals later in the half.
Bruno Fernandes was brought down by Wesley Fofana in the box, and the Portuguese converted the resulting penalty, before teeing up Marcus Rashford for a fourth minutes later.
Even a late Joao Felix consolation would not dampen the mood on the night as our superb triumph sealed Champions League qualification for the 2023/24 campaign, and takes us into third spot ahead of Newcastle United.
FIRST HALF - CASEMIRO INSPIRES DOUBLE
After a Carney Chukwuemeka shot over, the visitors should have taken the lead four minutes in, when Conor Gallagher’s pass opened up the pitch for young full-back Lewis Hall, and he squared it expertly to find Mykhailo Mudryk, but he skewed his strike wide from close range.
But United were the side that took the lead with only six minutes played, as Casemiro found the net for the second game running. The Brazil midfielder was on the end of an Eriksen free-kick to give us an early lead with a commanding header beyond Blues keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea’s youthful side threatened on occasion, but United were on top in what was an open game; that was evident when Antony charged down the right-hand side with what seemed like the freedom of the pitch, but he slipped as he took his shot from outside the box.
The Reds should have made it two, with 19 minutes on the clock, as Eriksen’s sensational pass to Antony saw United go three against one in attack, the Brazilian picking out Martial in the box, but the visitors retrieved the ball after a loose touch from the Frenchman.
The game took a sour turn after 25 minutes, when we lost Antony to injury. Our no.21 was forced off on a stretcher, following Trevoh Chalobah’s challenge, meaning Marcus Rashford’s return from the bench came earlier than anticipated.
Sancho’s pass to Martial falling short then led to a Chelsea counter which resulted in Kai Havertz heading wide from a presentable position, before Mudryk danced his way through the middle with a slaloming run but was thwarted inside our box.
Chelsea were hunting down an equaliser, as Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked Hall’s shot, and Gallagher curled wide, and the latter was then played clean through by Enzo Fernandez, only to drag wide of the far post.
As with the first goal, United punished Chelsea’s failure to convert, by going up the other end and immediately scoring ourselves. Casemiro’s effortless no-look pass found Sancho in behind, and he put it on a plate for Martial to double our lead deep in first-half stoppage-time.
SECOND HALF - REDS PULL CLEAR
Tyrell Malacia was introduced for the start of the second half, in place of Luke Shaw, but it was fellow defender Victor Lindelof who set the tone for a dominant second half. The Swede stole in to rob Gallagher of possession and play in Sancho, who teed up Fernandes to shoot first time, and his powerful effort hammered against the woodwork.
It wasn’t until five minutes into the second half that David De Gea was forced into a first save of the night – palming Mudryk’s low strike around his right-hand post for a corner.
Then came a United foray, as after Wan-Bissaka had a shot blocked, Malacia teased a low ball across the face, with Eriksen heeling the ball goalwards from behind him, and Kepa scrambling it away before Casemiro fizzed just wide from the 20-yard follow-up.
The end-to-end tone remained – with De Gea then producing a decent double stop to keep out Hall’s curling strike, and then reacting well to hold Mudryk’s deflected shot.
Both sides made double changes, stemming the flow of the contest temporarily, but it was Ten Hag’s alterations that proved immediately effective. Fred and Alejandro Garnacho entered the fray and within two minutes, the latter played Fernandes down the left, who was hacked down by Wesley Fofana in the box, and a penalty was awarded as a result.
Fernandes stepped up to coolly dispatch beyond Kepa for his 12th goal of the season, and he was involved again, five minutes later, as we put further daylight between ourselves and the visitors.
Rashford was the man to strike for the fourth goal. After Fernandes collected a stray pass from Fofana in the Chelsea box, he picked out Rashford, and our no.10 sidestepped a defender and, after an initial save from Kepa, finished into an empty net – making him our first 30-goal-season striker since Robin van Persie 10 years ago.
United were absolutely in the mood for more by this point and could have gone further ahead when Garnacho’s shot was deflected onto the crossbar and over. Felix blotted our copybook for the evening with an 89th-minute reply, denying De Gea a clean sheet with a run through the centre and crisp finish into the bottom left corner.
Kepa saved from Rashford and McTominay in stoppage time, but our work was already more than done, with United’s impressive second-half display sealing victory and confirmation of a top-four finish in the Premier League.
United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Lindelof, Shaw (Malacia 46); Casemiro, Eriksen (Fred 70); Antony (Rashford, 29), Fernandes (c) (McTominay 85), Sancho; Martial (Garnacho 70).
Substitutes not used: Butland, Dalot, Maguire, Weghorst.
Goals: Casemiro 6, Martial, 45+5, Fernandes 73, Rashford 79.
Chelsea: Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), W. Fofana, Chalobah, Hall; Fernandez, Gallagher (Loftus-Cheek 82), Chukwuemeka (Ziyech 82); Madueke (D.Fofana 82), Havertz (Joao Felix 64), Mudryk (Pulisic 64).
Substitutes not used: Mendy, Gilchrist, Koulibaly, Thiago Silva.
Goals: Joao Felix 89.