Two headers were enough to seal the deal for United in a controversial match, one excellently glanced into the bottom left corner (from a sumptious cross by right wing back Aaron Wan-Bissaka) by under scrutiny striker Anthony Martial, and the second goal being powered home by skipper Harry Maguire, being his long awaited first league goal for the club. In what was at times a tense affair full of VAR decisions, the Red Devils put in a solid performance, despite just having 38.8% possession, with three times the shots on target Chelsea had (3 to their 1). Our xG for the game was 0.8 to Chelsea’s 1.3, which suggests we were much more clinical than our counterparts on this occasion. It seems Solskjaer read the match preview we published, as the formation we suggested to play against Chelsea’s 4-3-3 was what was used, and it worked to great effect.
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Throughout the game, Chelsea had 17 shots in total. Interestingly, United blocked 10(!) of these shots to halt them in their flight, this was great evidence that United were able to restrict the blues to low quality chances, as they only ended the match with 1 shot on target. This was testament to the defence, with Eric Bailly having a particularly impressive return to the first team where he won 5/5 of his aerial defensive duels. Alongside him, Maguire also had a very good game, if not at times a contentious one. Relatively early on in the first half, Maguire and Batshuayi battled for the ball near the touchline and Maguire fell off the pitch, and then whilst on the ground, appeared to kick his leg out into Batshuayi into his groin area. The incident was very similar to Son of Tottenham’s red card earlier on in the season. However, when sent to VAR, it was decided not to be worthy of a card. The centre back went on to have a very strong game with 9 clearances (most in the game) and 8 recoveries. As we have spoken about previously, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is amazing defensively but has struggled going the other way, and on the surface yesterday might’ve been the same with only 29% of United’s attacks coming down his right flank. However, at 0-0, the wing back picked up the ball, surged forward before passing it to Fred and carrying on his run. He then received the ball back off of Fred, cleverly held off the Chelsea full back before swinging in a nearly inch perfect cross for Martial to get on the end of. Brilliant from Aaron.
Brazilian midfielder Fred had yet another stand out big game performance against Chelsea. Finishing the game with 83 touches, 1 key pass and 67% of his tackles, he continued his fantastic form as he continues to show why the Manchester club bought him for £47 million. He was as tenacious as usual, and added composure to the United midfielder. New signing Bruno Fernandes also put in a fantastic showing on only his second outing for the club, getting his first assist for the club with a brilliantly taken corner for Maguire to get on the end of. To finally see a player who is capable of taking corners that actually beats the first man, makes me as a United fan, very happy. He finished with 3 key passes, 2 shots and almost got his first goal with a beautifully struck free-kick that hit the base of the right goalpost. For his first game in the Premier League against a top 6 side, he impressed and showed how good he can become for United, showcasing his incredible game intelligence throughout the game.
Up front, Anthony Martial has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism from both pundits and fans as the goals have dried up since Marcus Rashford suffered a stress fracture halfway through January (more can be read about the Martial conundrum here). At the start of the game, it looked to be much of the same with the French striker being dispossessed easily multiple times. The only early sign of activity was a smart one-two played between Martial and Fernandes (an insight into the bond on the pitch they can form) which released Anthony into the box, but with the shot on his left foot, he dragged the shot wide. Then, just before half time, when Wan-Bissaka sent a cross into the box, he used his acceleration to get in front of the unaware Christensen to leap above the centre back and glance a well taken header into the bottom corner to break the deadlock. Martial’s xG for the entire game was 0.2, so he took his chance with both hands. There are criticisms to be made of Anthony Martial, but one that cannot be made is his performances against the top 6 sides. In his last 3 league matches against Chelsea, he has 4 goals; an impressive record for somebody who is criticised for not bagging enough goals. The sooner people realise United are better with Rashford AND Martial together, the better.
United were fortunate with a few strokes of luck with Maguire avoiding red, and a Chelsea goal being ruled out although unclear if it was the right decision. Despite all this, they played well, and even though there was room for improvement, it was a good game from the reds.