Sunday Night Takeaway: Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea

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Post-match reaction from United’s win over Chelsea.

Enough

… and thus follows a theme about Manchester United this season. They did enough to win the game and to deserve to win it; today, that’s a good thing, even if the consensus about Jose Mourinho’s work as manager is that doing ‘enough’ isn’t quite meeting expectations.

That is because United are just about meeting their objective but with the attacking riches they boast, it could be done with more style. Or, with the time Mourinho has spent at the club, they should be better defensively. Another theme of this season is that United have generally been better in the second half than the first and that followed again here. What United gave was enough to win the game; they were better than Chelsea, but not exactly thrilling.

Diluted

That previous point isn’t a criticism of Mourinho. This fixture, despite the pre-match talk about the manager’s rivalry, lacked the sort of bite and intensity it has had in the past. Normally, you could count on these two standard bearers to put on a contest of high quality and few errors. But this very much felt like a game of phases; Chelsea had the better of the opening exchanges but United had a spell of around ten minutes, just before Willian scored, where they made the champions look ordinary. And that’s not to say United were brilliant themselves.

Presumably galvanised by a Mourinho half-time talk insisting the game was there to win, United upped a level in the second half, particularly after the introduction of Lingard, and controlled the game. It didn’t quite feel like a win over the Champions.

Lukaku’s big day

The relief when he scored the equaliser was tangible. The majesty in which he created the second goal was an even more impressive contribution. And yet it was the injury time burst of speed, where he left the Chelsea defence for dead, which had most United supporters out of their seat in excitement. There were times in the first half when it appeared as if the Belgian would be a passenger, but in the second half, something seemed to click, and he put in one of his most impressive shifts in a United shirt.

Midfield Control

This was a day for United’s midfield to stand up – Paul Pogba has been heavily criticised, Nemanja Matic’s form has dropped off and question marks have surrounded Scott McTominay’s ability to step up.

Put in the greater, wider perspective about whether or not it’s a combination to overhaul Manchester City? The jury is still out. Against the rest of the league, though, and starting with the Champions, it’s clearly a selection that is, again, good enough.

Pogba was not the marauding dominant force people expect of him but this was nonetheless an eight out of ten – he was influential and positive. In fact, only Nemanja Matic bettered him on the day, with an absolutely magnificent performance in the middle of the park. For his part, McTominay did such a mature job on Eden Hazard that the player who has been heralded by many as the best in the league was withdrawn with more than quarter of an hour to play, ineffectual as he was.

As with all of the above points, there is nothing seen today that is strong enough to base any solid conclusions on. But there was enough to be encouraged, and with a huge game coming up against Liverpool in a couple of weeks, it’s just what United needed.

Wayne Barton is an author and has worked with numerous Manchester United icons. He ghost wrote the autobiographies of Brian Greenhoff, Gordon Hill, Danny Higginbotham, Mick Duxbury and Clayton Blackmore. He is the football columnist for international broadcaster eirSport.

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