Manchester United continued their recent domestic resurgence and heaped further pressure on Maurizio Sarri and his struggling Chelsea side as they booked their place in the FA Cup quarter-finals with a relatively comfortable victory at Stamford Bridge.
While the first half was largely even in terms of play, United were hungrier and more incisive in front of goal, and thoroughly deserved the two goal lead they earned through headers from Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba – with the latter turning in yet another classic display to run the show from midfield.
Although Chelsea started the second half well, United were more than capable in minimising the threat posed by the the introduction of Willian, and a Hazard half-chance was about all Sarri’s side could muster in the way of genuine attacking threat.
Check out our breakdown of the game below.
Key Talking Point
?The Blues started with the same back four? that shipped six goals to ?Manchester City a little over a week ago, and while there were five changes from the win at Malmo during the week, Matteo Kovacic coming in for Ross Barkley was the only alteration from the City drubbing. Maurizio Sarri was clearly looking to domestic continuity to ease the pressure on himself and his side.
It seemed to be working early on, as they looked a long way removed from the same side who were ripped apart by the champions, but as the first half wore on, the same old issues with Sarri’s tactics emerged as they increasingly looked toothless in front of goal and lethargic in possession.
#Chelsea need to go route 1, passing it from the back hasn’t worked. Time for plan B. Leaders need to step up
— chijioke (@chijiokenwaob) February 18, 2019
#Chelsea Sarriball is going from bad to worst. Reminding me everyday of Scolari and Villa Boas. He just just pack his bags. Enough is enough! #Sarriout
— Brown Sugar (@ObongUlaga) February 18, 2019
They conceded twice to impressive headers from Herrera and Pogba, and had it all cut out for them in the second period, which they started with a frantic pace and energy which had been missing all throughout the first 45.
As the half progressed, though, it became apparent that there would yet again be no plan B, and the boos that rung around the Bridge at full-time suggest that Sarri could be in desperate need of an EFL Cup win next weekend to save his job.
Starting XI: Arrizabalaga (5); Azpilcueta (5), Rudiger (6), Luiz (6), Alonso (6); Kante (6), Jorginho (5), Kovacic (6); Pedro (5), Higuain (6), Hazard (6)
Substitutes: Willian (5), Barkley (6), Zappacosta (4)
Key Talking Point
For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, it was all about bouncing back from his first real setback as ?United boss after a humbling defeat against PSG in the Champions League during the week, ?and without the injured Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, he had to lean into his rotation options in attack in order to do so.
Out went Lingard, Martial, Eric Bailly and David de Gea for Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, Chris Smalling and Sergio Romero, and the result was a United side who forfeited much of the early possession to their hosts, but found themselves deservedly and convincingly in front at the interval.
Can’t believe my eyes, two crosses from both wings finished by two headers ??? It’s like we finally signed someone that can cross! #mufc
— ManUnitedZone (@ManUnitedZone_) February 18, 2019
Imagine failing to get the best out of such an obvious World Cup winning talent as Paul Pogba. If he has any pride it must really eat away at Jose Mourinho… #MUFC
— Sam Pilger (@sampilger) February 18, 2019
If Solskjaer needed a result to restore the feel-good factor, then he’d have been happy at the break, and he would have been positively delighted at full-time.
The fledgling gaffer achieved yet another important result in his bid to land the job on a permanent basis, and the game-management skills his side showed throughout the second half coupled with the incisive attacking threat posed in the first suggests he wouldn’t be a bad appointment in the slightest.
Starting XI: Romero (6); Young (6), Smalling (6), Lindelof (6), Shaw (6); Pogba (7), Matic (6), Herrera (6); Mata (6), Rashford (7), Lukaku (7)
Substitutes: Alexis Sanchez (6), Andreas Pereira (5), McTominay (4)
Star Man – Paul Pogba
Pogba had a lot to make up for after his red card against PSG, but his first half display alone was enough to redeem him in the eyes of the United faithful.
He ran the show, producing an impressive cross for Herrera’s opening goal and forcing home the second himself, and looked again like the unplayable midfield maestro he has so frequently been since Solskjaer took charge.
He’ll be a huge miss in the second leg of the last 16 Champions League tie in France, but his performance will give Liverpool something to think about ahead of their Premier League meeting on Sunday.
Chelsea will be looking to see their Europa League last-32 tie out when Malmo visit Stamford Bridge hoping to overturn a 2-1 deficit. Just three days later they have an EFL Cup final to ‘look forward to’ against Manchester City.
United, meanwhile, face another important test of Ole’s tenure when Liverpool come to Old Trafford on Sunday.