United manager Jose Mourinho has suffered this season against the club where he was a three-time champion, losing 4-0 in the league at Chelsea and also going out of the FA Cup quarter-final at Stamford Bridge.
The Portuguese was not to be denied this time as Marcus Rashford, paired with Jesse Lingard up front while a jaded Zlatan Ibrahimovic was rested, finished coolly after seven minutes and Ander Herrera – detailed to do a brilliant man-marking job on Eden Hazard – saw his shot deflected in off Kurt Zouma four minutes after the break.
Zouma was a late replacement for Marcos Alonso, who pulled out in the warm-up, but Chelsea can offer no excuses here as they were second best throughout. Tottenham now trail them by four points with six games to go and have the superior goal difference.
Chelsea stumble in their title stroll
Chelsea looked to be strolling to the title just a few weeks ago – but a sudden stumble, including the home defeat by struggling Crystal Palace, and an irresistible surge from Spurs have brought renewed edge to the run-in.
Conte will feel his side did not enjoy the best of luck here, with keeper Thibaut Courtois ruled out with a training injury, Alonso withdrawn after the warm-up and referee Bobby Madley missing what appeared to be a clear handball from Herrera as he intercepted Nemanja Matic’s pass before sending Rashford clear for the opener.
The Blues are still in a strong position but they are now feeling the hot breath of Spurs on their neck after Pochettino’s team made it seven successive league wins for the first time since 1967 with a 4-0 home win over Bournemouth on Saturday.
So Spurs have momentum – but Chelsea still have a four-point lead, which counts for a lot with only six games left.
The Blues’ run-in also looks a little kinder, with home games against Southampton, Middlesbrough, Watford and Sunderland – but a real test to come at Everton.
The pressure, however, is now applied and there may be twists left in this race. Spurs will feel renewed hope.
Mourinho’s tactical masterclass?
Mourinho’s starting line-up raised eyebrows, with Ibrahimovic on the bench and Anthony Martial nowhere to be seen – but the end result, and the manner of United’s victory, demonstrated just how brilliantly he had set up his team.
With Ibrahimovic out, the pace and movement of Rashford and Lingard offered the sort of threat that troubled Chelsea instantly. Rashford had missed one good chance before coolly directing a finish past Begovic early on.
The real masterstroke, however, was his decision to deploy Herrera as Hazard’s shadow throughout. The Belgian, who Conte felt was a deliberate target for physical punishment in the recent FA Cup quarter-final, was totally snuffed out by Herrera, who covered his every move and forced him to the margins on a miserable afternoon for Chelsea.
And, to make Mourinho’s day complete, it was Herrera who escaped Hazard’s attentions to find space in the area and send that deflected shot high into the net at the Stretford End for the home side’s crucial second goal.
Can Chelsea bounce back?
This was a bitterly disappointing display by Conte’s side but it was only their fifth league defeat of the season.
Too many of their big players failed to make an impact, with Hazard nullified and striker Diego Costa falling back into bad old ways, seemingly more intent on conducting a running battle with Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly than pose a threat.
Chelsea will also feel they got the rough end of the refereeing decisions, but in the end United were dominant
Conte will be disappointed but his side are still title favourites, with that slender lead but also a favourable remaining programme.
Man of the match – Ander Herrera (Manchester United)
‘I don’t feel extra joy at beating Chelsea’
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, speaking to Match of the Day: “It was the same plan that was working with 11 players in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge. They are the best counter-attacking team in the country and we controlled them very well.
“I’m really happy with the boys. I’m happy – it’s not because it’s Chelsea, it’s because we need these three points.
“I don’t feel extra joy at beating Chelsea – we beat the leader. It doesn’t matter if the leader is Chelsea or another – we beat them convincingly. Nobody can doubt our credit to win the game.”
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, speaking to Match of the Day: “Manchester United deserved to win because they showed more desire, more motivation, more ambition to win this game.
“It is simple. The fault is mine, because this type of situation the fault is the coach. I wasn’t able to transfer the right concentration, the right motivation.
“This league is not closed. Tottenham are on great form and playing with great enthusiasm, but we are playing a great season and we must try to reach this target.
“We started as underdogs and it won’t be easy.”
Mourinho completes the set – the key stats
- Jose Mourinho has now recorded at least one league victory against all 34 Premier League clubs he has faced as a manager.
- Ander Herrera scored and provided an assist in the same Premier League game for the first time since October 2015 versus Everton.
- Rashford’s goal was the earliest Chelsea had conceded in the Premier League since December 2013 (Skrtel, third minute for Liverpool).
- Chelsea have gone 10 Premier League games without keeping a clean sheet for the first time since December 1996 (13 games).
- Manchester United’s Premier League unbeaten run now stands at 22 matches (W12 D10), the longest within a single season by a team since United themselves in 2010-11 (24).
- Before this defeat, Chelsea had gone nine Premier League games unbeaten against Manchester United (W4 D4), last losing to them in October 2012.
- Chelsea also failed to have a shot on target in a Premier League match for the first time since September 2007, which was also versus Manchester United at Old Trafford.
United host Anderlecht in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday, with the tie currently at 1-1. They then return to Premier League action at Burnley next Sunday.
Chelsea’s next game is against their title rivals Tottenham, not in the Premier League but the FA Cup semi-finals, next Saturday. Their next league game is the following Tuesday, at home to Southampton.