Manchester United’s victory against Chelsea on Sunday went a long way in securing their place towards a top 4 position. Substitute Jesse Lingard came off the bench to give the hosts a 2-1 victory and ease some concerns for United fans about some poor form lately.
Victory over his former club and managerial rivalry with Antonio Conte was a sweet one for Mourinho and even stated that the dispute was finished after the match. A pre-match handshake seemed to paper over the cracks but as the match began, Conte was the only one smiling.
Chelsea dominated the first sequences of the match with Alvaro Morata hitting a clean strike off the bar and were constantly holding possession and testing the United defenders. It took United until the 27th minute to get their first shot on target as Alexis Sanchez was only able to wiggle through to fire a soft shot into the arms of Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
It seemed to have spurred United on to take control of the game, but Willian took a clean shot from a nice Eden Hazard pass to put Chelsea up 1-0 in the 32nd minute and left De Gea pounding the ground in frustration.
However, the visitors lead lasted just 10 minutes before United were able to equalize. A nice combination between Sanchez, Martial, Lukaku and Matic unfolded as Lukaku was able to hold off Marcos Alonso on the edge of the box and was able to slot the ball into the back of the net for the tying goal.
The second half saw more of an equal effort from both sides as United grew into the game much more than what they offered in the first. Lukaku offered up a huge assist on the edge of the box as he waited for Lingard to make a near post run to head home the winner.
It was more than a sigh of relief for United as the final whistle blew at Old Trafford with United the victors 2-1. It was enough to move United back into second place above Liverpool and, crucially, six points ahead of Chelsea with 10 games to play.
It was also a point to prove that United can get results against the top clubs as they have struggled with since Mourinho has taken charge back in 2016. None more have proven a point than the big Belgian striker, Romelu Lukaku who’s scoring record against the top six clubs has been less than admirable.
Before the game on Sunday, Lukaku’s record was 0-6 against the top 6 teams this season. After, it read 1-7. Stats aside, this was one of Lukaku’s best and most important performances in a United shirt.
The reverse fixture when United lost to Chelsea back in November saw the Belgian squander a chance wide while Morata fired home the winning header. It added criticism as to whether Lukaku could cut it at a big club or not.
£90 million pound acquisitions will always bear the brunt of the criticism when the team does poorly and share the majority of the glory when success is obtained. This performance was particularly important for Lukaku as it took his goal tally to 22 for the season. Not only did he help United to a crucial win against a big rival and top club, it took an immense amount of pressure off himself, as well as making the critics think twice about him being up to the task of leading United’s front line.
In the recent weeks, Alexis Sanchez has been receiving most of the press with his big move to United from Arsenal in the January transfer window but it is Lukaku who should be getting more of the praise.
In the 17 games that Lukaku has scored so far this season, United have gone on to win 16 of them with only non-victory a draw against Stoke back in September. Those 16 wins have paved the way for United to be as successful as they have been this season sitting in 2nd six points ahead of Chelsea.
Lukaku is the focal point of the United attack. He is the main man to score and while he is criticised for having a poor record against the top clubs, Sunday’s performance will go a long way in proving those critics wrong. His hold up play leading to his first goal was what you would expect from a big, strong centre forward as he was able to muscle off defenders to get the ball to Martial to quickly fire back to him to lead to the goal.
At Everton, Lukaku lacked the quality of service like he has at United but still managed 68 goals in 4 seasons with the Toffees. It’s an impressive goal record but now that he is at United with service from some of the world’s best, Lukaku now looks like a man, moving powerfully past defenders and showing his strength and poise as a United forward. Now, Lukaku finally has the world class talent around him to push his goal tally above 30 this season, something United have been missing for a good while now.
Mourinho’s style of play has always favored specialists in each position. A high flying winger to burn up and down the flanks and cross the ball in, an out and out striker to hold up play and power home crosses and balls into the box. Lukaku isn’t going to burn defenders for pace or dazzle the eyes with yo-yo like dribbling but what he does lack in finesse, he makes up for in power and clinical finishing.
Lukaku still has a long way to go to be considered one of the world’s best like Robert Lewandowski or Edison Cavani but at only 24 years of age, he is on the right path to becoming a true United talisman in the striking position.
With players like Martial, Sanchez, Pogba and Mata, Lukaku is sitting in a nice position for his future success. Quietly, both manager and player will be breathing a sigh of relief after Lukaku’s goal and assist in Sunday’s win over Chelsea. Both will be hoping for much more and if Lukaku plays like he did on Sunday, United’s goals will continue to flow.
With 10 games to go in the Premier League and an crucial Champions League game against Sevilla coming up in the next week, 1 goal could be the difference between a season’s success and its failure.
United will be hoping for more in the weeks and months to come but for now, its Lukaku’s spoils and United’s victory to take home.