Manchester United Decisive but Imperfect
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
The beginning of a new era in Chelsea…
Although that has been said often in Chelsea’s recent history, this is the first time in which the club cannot look to a superstar player. The suggestion was that new manager, Frank Lampard, Chelsea legend would turn to youth. In his first game in charge against an also unsettled Manchester United side at the Theater of Dreams, Lampard did just that.
The game commenced with a great deal of pace, barely giving time to fans or players alike a chance to breath. Chelsea started more intensely than the home team despite arguably having less proven Premier League talent. Watching the game, one would have been forgiven for thinking the Blues were at home and not United. Mason Mount began the game with confidence and verve, reminiscent of his midfield partner Ross Barkley when he first came on the scene for Everton. Mount appeared to start as the main midfield option, his shared time with Lampard last season seemingly paying dividends. However, after the first quarter of the game he started to struggle. Barkley found it difficult to impose himself from the beginning of the match with his touch always just a tad off. One of his midfield counterparts in red, Paul Pogba, also began the game slowly. More on him later.
“Although the performance was unimpressive, Manchester United ran out clear winners, explosive and decisive when it mattered.”
Pedro, however, was his characteristic self, indefatigable, inventive and thrusting. For much of the first half, he was the primary threat for Chelsea but it was Tammy Abraham, scorer of 26 goals in the Championship for Aston Villa last season, who hammered a shot against the far post after a slight mixup in the Red Devils’ final third.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær, a club favorite in his own right and also an inexperienced coach at this level set up his team with bags of speed. A team including the trio of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard is destined to cause most teams trouble on the break. Chelsea was no different. Their speed, trickery and movement provided a warning that Chelsea and their manager failed to heed and the Red Devils made them pay for it in devastating fashion.
Martial and Rashford were both decisive, the latter with a goal and particularly the former with inventiveness and dribbling in and around the penalty area. Lingard, however, found it difficult to get on the ball.
Considering the importance of the player, his apparent discontent with playing deeper and the desperation of the club to keep hold of the talented but divisive midfielder, it was surprising to see Pogba start in a double pivot alongside academy product McTominay behind Andreas Pereira. Pogba is much more effective closer to the opposition goal than to his own but on the day he played in a more similar role to the one he inhabited during France’s World Cup run last year. It proved to be an astute decision on the day, albeit with some luck.
Although, Jorginho was often maligned last season, it was Kovacic who was less effective, drifting around but rarely affecting the game. He, playing just left of the more central Jorginho, portrayed little ambition in his play. He finally got more involved once Jorginho departed.
Kurt Zouma, another recently returned loanee (Mount and Abraham) with high hopes and expectations, did not have a good start to the game. A slack pass gifted an opportunity to Martial who struck straight at De Gea. He then gave up a penalty when he clumsily fouled Rashford. Anthony Taylor played a brilliant advantage that led to the moment and. The Red Devils’ number 10 powered an excellent penalty into the top left corner. Zouma will be very disappointed with his performance, missing passes and making defensive mistakes. With Luis sold and Rüdiger not yet fit, it was a chance for both Christensen and Zouma to stake a claim for a starting berth.
The goal was completely against the run of play but it did demonstrate the lack of seasoning of this Chelsea team. Once United did get that goal they looked much more comfortable getting their grip on the game.
Christina Pulisic the much-hyped American winger took the place of Ross Barkley who had grown into the game although he failed to stand tall. American and Chelsea eyes alike must have been delighted when Pulisic picked up the ball in his own half, turned Wan-Bissaka and accelerated. It was an impressive initial burst. Some fans and pundits had unfairly saddled him with the label of Hazard-replacement but Chelsea have expertly downplayed such a notion. Even Lampard’s decision to start him on the bench lessened the pressure around the young man and, although early, he looks to have been a good pick up.
Manchester United took a 2-0 lead and although it was a good low cross by Pereira for the assist after an impressive run but heavy pass by Marcus Rashford and a tap-in by Martial, the goal began with Harry Maguire making a telling contribution, forcing an aggressive Tammy Abraham off the ball. The counterattack was devastating and exploited Azipilicueta who had been caught up in the right wing when Tammy lost the ball. He did an admirable job of getting back rapidly but he was caught on the wrong side of Martial when Pereira’s ball arrived. The usually indomitable Azipilicueta had been afforded more license to move forward looking to show he was just as effective attacking as defending but in the end it proved to be one of a few errors to cost Lampard and his Blues.
Barely a minute later, United increased their lead to 3. Pogba played a wonderful pass over the top of the defense from the around the halfway line after a lost ball by Pulisic in a tight area. Rashford made an outside-in run, expertly controlled the ball and slotted it home like the most experienced of poachers.
Jorginho was the most impressive of the midfielders, especially considering his more liberal and advance role. He was replaced by N’Golo Kanté in the 73’ minute, likely to help stem the bleeding and also to provide the latter with a runout. It was not enough.
Daniel James, 21, maybe the speediest of speedsters, had a dream debut at Old Trafford, when he came on for Andreas Pereira a minute after Kanté and scored off of Pogba’s second assist. He nearly fluffed his lines but, with help from an Emerson deflection, he scored in his very first competitive game for Manchester United.
If this game is any indication, Chelsea will find it difficult to repeat last seasons’s league finish due to a lack of established quality. On the other hand, Manchester United might struggle due to a lack of ambition although they may compensate with a couple of speedy forwards full of confidence. Pogba, his positioning and motivation however will be key in United’s performance. Is this a one-off for the Frenchman? If not, how effective will it be and if it is effective will that satisfy him?
Although the performance was unimpressive, Manchester United ran out clear winners, explosive and decisive when it mattered. The win is important for confidence and momentum although they will be far more tested against a more established side.
Chelsea’s day showed what many feared. With few signings and an immature side and inexperienced backroom staff, Chelsea will be in for an entertaining but difficult season. It is just one game so there is more than ample time. And although Chelsea fans may be pessimistic, this season could prove crucial for Chelsea’s future. A full season of Premier League play will be hugely beneficial for the players.
Chelsea might have to look to something besides results to find pleasure this season but there is something to which to look forward. United will be pleased but their initial setup was cautious and questions will be asked of Ole and this young United team. For now, however, the red half of Manchester can smile brightly after a decisive victory.