Chelsea took a massive step to winning their first Premier League title in 5 years after beating Manchester United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho produced another Mourinho masterclass and managed to earn a priceless three points for his side. Mourinho’s Chelsea are unbeaten against all of their big team rivals this season, Mourinho has instilled a must-not-lose mentality into his players when the big occasions arise. Despite the result, Louis Van Gaal was delighted with his side’s performance and believes his team is rapidly heading into the right direction. United were plagued with injuries and had to do a significant reshuffle ahead of the blockbuster clash. Mourinho managed to conjure up the perfect plan to outwit his former mentor. Kurt Zouma was recalled to the Chelsea side in a bid to nullify the threat of Maraoune Fellaini, Zouma produced a fantastic display and never gave Fellaini an opportunity to impose himself on the game. United dominated possession but were unable to unlock a robust Chelsea backline, Chelsea’s discipline and organisation frustrated Van Gaal’s side. Not for the first time this season, Eden Hazard proved to be Chelsea’s match winner and put Chelsea on the cusp of Premier League glory. Here are some key talking points from Saturday’s clash:
Carrick was a big miss
For all of United’s defensive issues, it would have been the loss of Michael Carrick which would of thrilled Mourinho the most. Carrick has been the bedrock for Van Gaal’s United this season and his presence radiates confidence through the rest of the United team. The loss of Carrick meant that Wayne Rooney was back to being deployed as a holding midfielder and was unable to pose an attacking threat on the game. For all of the possession United had, Carrick’s absence meant United lacked that extra zest in their passing display. Overall, Carrick has been present in 13 of United’s 19 league victories this season, 3 of their 8 draws and 2 of their 5 defeats. Van Gaal will hope that Carrick’s injury is minor, however the worry for Van Gaal is that United do not possess anyone else in the side that can play that role.
Hazard’s stock continues to rise
Where would Chelsea be if their Belgian wizard didn’t continue to bail them out? Since putting 5 past Swansea in January, Chelsea’s form has significantly dipped and although their lead at the top of the Premier League is substantial, Mourinho’s side have been stumbling towards the finishing line. With Diego Costa’s injury jinx striking once again, coinciding with Cesc Fabregas’ poor second half of the season, Chelsea have become heavily reliant on Eden Hazard to produce match winning performances. Without Hazard’s class, Chelsea’s football at times looks medieval and extremely bland. The ease and grace in which Hazard torments defenders has made him become the vocal point of Mourinho’s side. After Oscar’s intelligent reverse pass it seemed a formality that Hazard was going to break the deadlock against Manchester United, up against the best keeper in the Premier League Hazard showed great composure to nutmeg David De Gea and prove to be Chelsea’s talisman once again. There is no questioning that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are in a world of their own, Hazard however right now can pose a serious case of being the best of the rest.
Luke Shaw impresses on return
It’s been a frustrating debut season for Luke Shaw at Old Trafford, Shaw has suffered numerous injury setbacks this season and has been unable to get a run of games in Van Gaal’s side. If it wasn’t for Daley Blind’s injury, Shaw may not have had the opportunity to stake his claim. Returning to the starting line-up against Chelsea, Shaw looked fit and motivated to show Van Gaal and the Old Trafford faithful what he is capable off. Shaw was galloping down Chelsea’s right and gave Ivanovic a torrid time, Shaw’s willingness to get forward proved to be a great outlet for United and his display against Chelsea was his most impressive to date and United fans will hope that this performance is a catalyst for more impressive displays. Paddy McNair also came back into the United side after an extended period out of the first team fold, conducting himself admirably against Drogba. The most impressive attribute about McNair’s display was his willingness to rampage forward in possession.
Falcao’s days look numbered
After another toothless display from Radamel Falcao it seems that his time at Manchester United is going to fizzle out. Falcao simply couldn’t cope with John Terry and Gary Cahill’s physicality and with Rooney being back in midfield, United lacked mobility upfront. Back in August when United secured the services of the Colombian on a season long loan, many felt United had pulled off one of the great coups. Falcao had one great chance to equalise for United which he spurned, previously in his prime only needing one chance, given such the predatory finishing he once possessed. Sadly for Falcao, the wear and tear after such a serious knee injury seems to have taken its toll and the pace of the English game hasn’t suited the Monaco man.