Just as dusk settled across one half of the globe, Chelsea hosted a former lover, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. It was a hostile affair for so many reasons. From no love lost between the Blues gaffer Antonio Conte and his predecessor to the myriad of hack jobs commissioned on Alvaro Morata’s head (or calves), it was pretty much a big fixture with a requisite amount of bile.
While it may be too early to draw significant conclusions just yet, there were a few things too obvious to ignore from this big club clash. Here are a few of them.
Morata 1, Lukaku 0?
At the peak of the annual summer transfer frenzy for 2017, Conte seemed to be confused over the particular striker he wanted. Everton’s Romelu Lukaku was whispered as the preferred hitman of choice for Stamford Bridge amidst a very public divorce from Diego Costa. All the while, United gaffer Mourinho was rumoured to be close to the reserve Real Madrid striker, Morata. All of that absurdly came to nought with both strikers ending up at opposite stadiums.
This past weekend, the Italian gaffer looked to have won the first battle involving both number 9s. Morata was not just the game-winner but an obvious thorn in the three-man defence that the Red Devils trotted out. Lukaku looked as forlorn as ever with barely a couple of attempts on his compatriot, Thibaut Courtois’ goal. That age-old trope about his first touch and Thor’s hammer popped up again too.
Off the evidence of this one game, Morata looked like the better investment. If you’re fickle and married to just the present, it’s pretty easy to conclude the Belgian striker is the literal short end of the stick. Conversely, it might be too simplistic a conclusion. At least Mourinho hopes so.
Mourinho prefers transportation by bus
For a man who has won so many titles, there’s a shadow of negativity that Mourinho just cannot seem to shake. Against Liverpool 3 weeks ago, he parked the bus and got savaged by “friend” and foe alike. He then welcomed Tottenham and oversaw a smash and grab 1-0 win. That had most people (except United fans in denial) going “meh.”
This latest defeat to Chelsea really did not help his case against the Mr Anti-football label. Especially if you look at the way he set up his team. Conte’s side has hardly lit up the Premier League and was just coming off the back of a comprehensive 3-0 drubbing by Roma. That much was hard to tell though.
United looked as defensive a side as possible in a 3-5-2 formation. It still did not stop onslaught after onslaught from the Blues. The number of fouls the visitors gave up was comical at a point.
Yes, Ngolo Kante returned. Yes, Paul Pogba was missing. Still, that this Chelsea side which has been at sixes and sevens a few times this season was able to put up a disciplined and dominant performance against a side that cost hundreds of millions to put together should worry United faithful. Tiemoue Bakayoko, still acclimatising to England it seems, had at least a couple of chances he should have put away. The same was the case with Morata.
The scoreline flattered the team in Red immensely. To make things worse, United had only 2 shots on target or one per every 45 minutes. One from the obviously rusty Marouane Fellaini and none from the folks you’d expect to actually trouble opposition goalkeepers. Pause, the bigger picture shows that there have been only 5 in 3 games against Liverpool, Spurs, and Chelsea! Sooner or later, Mourinho apologists have to face the crowd baying for his blood and explain, these numbers are disconcerting. That is unless, of course, they believe numbers (in context) are liars.
The Blue Moon rising is not so rare anymore
Pep Guardiola is running away. Haters often say it’s normal. He’s never really spent much time at any one place as a manager. Others will say he’s actually running away from a chasing pack of English clubs. You see, before Conte duelled at the Bridge, the Catalan was putting the Gunners of North London to the sword at the Emirates. They’ve dispatched Liverpool too.
Manchester City is 8 points ahead of United, a further 9 away from Chelsea. Mourinho says 8 point gaps are not as valuable in England as they are elsewhere in Europe. He may yet have a point. It’s however quite a lot of ground to worry about making up so early in the season. The upcoming Manchester derby will be quite the spectacle one can hope.
City will lose, at some point that will be a reality despite all the records they keep breaking with their attacking football. Who will catch up with them though? If Chelsea plays like they did yesterday more often, there might still be hope of a much more exciting title fight. United could still yet return to their 4-0 winning days of yore, assuming Mourinho doesn’t spontaneously combust by then. This is just one out of 20 games for both teams in the mini-league of top 6 sides in England. It might even require a minion to humble this sky blue juggernaut but as it stands, none of the “big boys” are ready for Pep’s jelly just yet.