Ruthless counter-attacking football from Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United saw them ease in to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last night.
A goal and an assist from man of the match Paul Pogba in the first half was enough to see off a spirited, but ultimately toothless Chelsea. As a result, it seems likely that Maurizio Sarri will soon be the latest Chelsea boss under Roman Abramovich to be sacked inside their first season at the club.
The game started at a helter-skelter pace, with both teams showing a desire to dominate. Man Utd pressed high and hard in their 4-4-2 Diamond formation, while Chelsea were determined to play out from the back. A goal straight out of the “Gegenpressing” handbook seemed likely for United as they won the ball in high areas, leading to half chances for Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling inside the opening 10 minutes.
But Chelsea grew into the game, beating the press and consistently finding Eden Hazard in space and seemingly, in the mood. After all their troubles in recent weeks, it felt as if “Sarriball” was to be vindicated with a big performance, Gonzalo Higuain missing the target with a long-range header after 16 minutes unable to turn effort and possession into a goal.
Just as Chelsea began to look comfortable, United countered to devastating effect. Juan Mata evaded Jorginho far too easily to set Pogba free on the left and he whipped in a perfect cross for the tireless Ander Herrera to stoop home on the half hour.
When you’re winning, possession can serve to illustrate your dominance, but for Chelsea here, it served only to show how incapable of penetration they were. Side to side around the United box, they dominated the ball, but United controlled the game.
On the stroke of half-time, it got worse. Pogba won the ball back easily and released Marcus Rashford into acres of space down the right hand side. Pogba continued his run into the box and Rashford found him with a Beckham-esque cross as he thumped home his 14thgoal of the season in a remarkable return to form under Solskjær.
2-0 Man Utd and the game was surely over.
In the second half, Chelsea’s best opportunity was perhaps when Matic was lucky not to be sent off for a second yellow, such was their toothless domination.
Apart from a blocked shot by Hazard, there were no moments of alarm for United’s stand-in goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
United defended with that perfect mix of aggression and discipline and Chelsea simply had no answer. Indeed, Rashford looked most likely to add to the scoring when he threatened a one-man counter on a number of occasions.
Looking forward, Manchester United players are making Solskjær look like a young Sir Alex Ferguson, while Chelsea’s players are making Sarri resemble Avram Grant. We all know how that ended up. It may be too late to change the transformation.