A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s home FA Cup tie against Manchester United.
Monday evening saw Chelsea host Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in their FA Cup 5th round tie. It was a match up between the two most successful sides of the Premier League era and a repeat of last season’s Final.
Maurizio Sarri made 6 changes to his side that won at Malmö FF in the Europa League on Thursday. Gonzalo Higuain, Eden Hazard and Pedro returned up front, while N’Golo Kante lined up in midfield and Marcos Alonso and Antonio Rudiger were recalled in defence.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made 4 changes, with former Blues Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata replacing the injured Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, while Chris Smalling returned in defence. Probably the biggest surprise was Sergio Romero being named in goal instead of David De Gea.
The Blues went in to the tie following a first leg victory away to Swedish side Malmö FF, the whilst The Red Devils suffered their first loss under Solskjaer. The 2-0 home defeat to Paris St-Germain showed that his side still have a long way to go to return to the top end of both domestic and european football.
Chelsea started the stronger and had the early chances. A David Luiz free kick was acrobatically saved by Romero, who’s save fell to Pedro. Sadly the Spaniard’s shot was drilled straight back to the keeper and 2 precious chances had gone begging.
United then started to get into their stride. Their midfield of Matic, Herrera and Pogba overpowered their counterparts. As the first half wore on the visitors pressed further forward and were beginning to expose Chelsea’s defence.
Then a deep cross from Pogba on the left managed to expose Marcos Alonso. With no support from midfield, Chelsea’s left back was left to defend 2 players, 1 of which was a marauding Herrera, who’s header nestled in to the back of the goal.
Once again Chelsea players’s heads started to drop from the set back of the first goal, while the visitors’s tails were up. Then just before half time, United won the ball on the half way line, charged forward and Pogba’s diving header doubled the lead.
Sarri finally got his side to sit back a few metres after the break but it was all too late. Despite his side’s best efforts to get back in to the tie, United looked comfortable for the entirety of the second half. In truth they only needed to keep the hosts at arms length and rarely needed to attack themselves.
The match became another big tick in the negative column for The Blues this season. The score may have only been 0-2, but except for the double shot early on, they never looked like troubling their opponents. Over 66% possession led to no further attempts on target against a side who rarely got out of second gear.
Chelsea look way to predictable and pedestrian under Sarri. Similar set ups have led to heavy defeats at Bournemouth and Manchester City, and now a dour loss to Manchester United. And with further key matches in multiple competitions, the supporters have reached their last straw.
With a relatively comfortable second leg against Malmö FF coming next, followed by key matches against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, manager Sarri has plenty of issues to deal with throughout his side.
Whilst the pressure is mounting on the Italian there is little evidence of his philosophy and style of play looking like it will be successful enough for Chelsea Football Club. After all, we had battled through a tough season under Antonio Conte to still lift the trophy at Wembley Stadium last May. However it took a “confused” and weak performance to lose grip on the same trophy. Not much of a defence at all.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue