There was something symbolic about the way Alvaro Morata spent the game, from the floor, watching Romelu Lukaku make the difference for Manchester United. Chelsea’s problems with their transfer policy were highlighted more than ever before as Lukaku scored one and assisted the other as the Red Devils took the spoils after Willian had opened the scoring for the visitors.
Antonio Conte made two changes to the side that played Barcelona on Tuesday night with Alvaro Morata and Danny Drinkwater coming into the team in place of Pedro and Cesc Fabregas. The Blues started the game on the front foot and it was Morata who should’ve put the away team in front when he could only hit the crossbar from close range after Marcos Alonso’s cross found him in front of goal. David De Gea tipped Eden Hazard’s deflected follow-up shot over the bar but things looked promising.
Chelsea continued their dominance for much of the first half with N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater reproducing the midfield partnership that won Leicester the league title in 2016. The pair ran the middle of the park and didn’t allow Paul Pogba any time or space on the ball. Scott McTominay was tasked with man marking Eden Hazard but the Belgian star frequently evaded the youngster and caused problems for the United backline. Victor Moses was a regular threat down the right-hand side but the attacks seemed to break down whenever they fell to Alvaro Morata.
Nevertheless, Chelsea got the goal they deserved via a sensational counter attack that started with the Blues defending a corner. Moses outjumped Pogba on the edge of the Chelsea box and Willian and Hazard were away. Hazard dragged the attention of half the United team towards him and opened up a gap for Willian to run into. Chelsea’s number 10 played the pass through to Willian and, in his form, you expected him to beat De Gea and he didn’t disappoint, rifling the ball through the grasp of the Spanish goalkeeper.
Chelsea could’ve doubled their lead just moments later when Eden Hazard found himself in space inside the United penalty area but couldn’t shift his feet in time to get a shot away before being crowded out. Before the game much of the focus was on Romelu Lukaku’s poor scoring record against the top sides but he banished those demons against his old club when he drew his current team level minutes before half time. A clash of heads with Andreas Christensen left the Dane on the deck but Lukaku brushed himself down and converted Anthony Martial’s lay-off from close range.
Despite playing so well for much of the first period, Chelsea didn’t come out of their shell in the second half and paid the price for their negative attitude towards the game. Apart from a scissor kick from Lukaku, which Courtois tipped over, and a couple of nervy moments from De Gea, there were no clear cut chances for either side until substitute Jesse Lingard managed to find some space in a crowded Chelsea box to head home Lukaku’s cross from the right wing. That goal sparked some sort of activity from a lacklustre Chelsea team who had seen Eden Hazard taken off just minutes before the goal.
Cesc Fabregas was introduced to try and create some chances for a strike partnership of Morata and Olivier Giroud and he did just that in the latter minutes of the game. His cute pass over the top of the United defence found Morata and Chelsea’s record signing found the far corner via the post and would’ve drawn Chelsea level had the offside flag not been raised. Replays showed that Morata was in fact onside when the pass was played but that doesn’t excuse his poor performance and his team’s dire second half showing.
None of Chelsea’s attacking players could find a way back into a game they had controlled so well and questions will be asked of Antonio Conte and his tactics. Jose Mourinho managed to strangle and suffocate the game to very few opportunities and his side looked far more like scoring than his former club did.
The decision to sell Diego Costa was baffling enough from Chelsea but the one to sign Alvaro Morata over Romelu Lukaku is even more puzzling. During this game, Lukaku showed the Chelsea board and Antonio Conte what they could’ve had as he proved to be twice the player that Morata is without the need to throw himself to the floor every two minutes. The second half belonged to Nemanja Matic who dominated the midfield against his former teammates and you fear it would’ve been even more comprehensive had his replacement at Chelsea, Tiemoue Bakayoko, would’ve played.
Not only was this game a damming indictment of Chelsea’s transfer policy but it also exposed some of weaknesses in a much-changed defence and the lack of options in midfield. Jose Mourinho, Nemanja Matic, Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata all took points off Chelsea here – a situation that shouldn’t have been able to happen in the first place.