Date: 25th February 2018
Venue: Old Trafford
Pic Credits: Getty Images
Much of the build-up to the match had centred on a verbal spat between the two managers over the preceding weeks.
Mourinho had referenced Conte’s four-month ban for failing to report match-fixing, for which the Italian was later cleared of any wrongdoing. The Chelsea boss called his United counterpart “a little man” – though both played down the issue in their final news conferences before the match.
Conte said the dispute had “stopped”, while Mourinho said he would “not speak about it – not at all”.
Despite that, there was a frisson of interest about how – or perhaps if – they would greet each other before kick-off.
Mourinho was first out of the tunnel while Conte delayed his entrance slightly, but the pair shook hands before referee Martin Atkinson got the match under way.
There was another handshake at full-time, coupled with a conciliatory pat on the back of the head from Mourinho.
Willian had opened the scoring in the huge Premier League clash between two sides both eyeing for a Champions League spot this season, when he started a counter-attack and ended it with his powerful strike in the 32nd minute.
But United hit back through a brilliantly engineered setup between Sanchez, Martial and an inspired Romelu Lukaku, who fired past Thibaut Courtois seven minutes later.
Jose Mourinho, who sought out Antonio Conte before kick-off to shake the Italian’s hand following their public spat back in January, then brought on Lingard in the second half – with the change proving key.
The 25-year-old headed Lukaku’s cross into the net in the 75th minute to secure all three points for United, which moves them back into second spot while Chelsea are now out of the top four because of Tottenham’s late goal from Kane which provided them a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace earlier in the day.
Conte opted against starting Eden Hazard up front at Old Trafford – as he so successfully did against Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday – and instead handed Alvaro Morata his first start since January 13.
And Morata could have re-paid Conte’s faith in him as early as the fourth minute when he side-footed Marcos Alonso’s volleyed cross onto the bar before Eden Hazard forced David De Gea into a crucial save moments later from his rebounded effort.
After an inconsistent start to the year, Chelsea certainly seemed confident by their recent set of results – which saw them secure big wins over West Brom and Hull and perform impressively against Barcelona.
And it wasn’t a surprise when they took the lead in the 32nd minute through Willian, who helped the Blues defend at the back before launching a swift counter-attack that saw him play the ball to Hazard before latching back onto it and beating De Gea at his near post.
This was the Brazilian’s fourth goal in his last three games but United reacted just seven minutes later when Lukaku restored parity. Lukaku came into the game having scored 12 goals in the Premier League so far this season, but with none – and only four shots on target – against the other teams in the top six.
The Belgian striker held the ball up and, despite appearing to catch Andreas Christensen in the head which caused him to fall to the ground before getting back up again, Alexis Sanchez’s ball to Anthony Martial was played through to Lukaku, who finished from close range ending his dry spell against the top elite.
Despite the importance to both sides of securing three points in this match, the pace of the game slowed right down in the second half – with the crowd watching on as much of the proceedings centred in midfield.
But Lukaku did have a chance to score again when his acrobatic overhead kick from Sanchez’s pass forced Thibaut Courtois into a fine, tipping save.
It wasn’t long, however, before the striker impacted the match – with his cross being headed into the back of the net by substitute Lingard with 15 minutes to go.
Morata thought he had equalised in the 85th minute, but his goal was ruled out for offside – though the United players stopped at the blow of the whistle and replays showed the striker was onside.
And United held on to take all three points and consolidate their place in the top four, while Chelsea now languish in fifth place with a crunch match against Manchester City to come next Sunday.
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