Manchester United bounced back in the perfect way from their interim Manager’s first blip since taking over with an emphatic 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge. There were fears that the Reds would falter after Tuesday night’s reality check, but the reality is that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United never looked like losing.
Inspired by Paul Pogba, who is showing his best ever club form under the Norwegian, and marshalled by the magnificent Ander Herrera, United’s midfield dominated Chelsea’s and set the platform for their victory.
Whilst they had a lot of possession, two early openings for Gonzalo Higuain seemed to be all Chelsea could muster in the first half. Marked well by Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof, Higuain offered little. Eden Hazard seemed to offer his usual threat out wide, but could not penetrate in the critical areas of the pitch. Herrera and Nemanja Matic always seemed to be there to snuff out the Belgian’s danger. It was through countering Chelsea’s possession where United proved devastating.
In the 31st minute, United picked the ball up in the middle area of the pitch. Juan Mata linked up well with his teammates before feeding Pogba. As Herrera made a late run, reminiscent of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane’s forward movements into the opposition box, the Frenchman found him brilliantly with a majestic ball. The Basque midfielder stooped low to nod it into the far post. It was a goal that harked back to the best counter-attacking goals of Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides. Remarkably quick and devastatingly effective.
United’s first was followed 14 minutes later by another counter attack. A throw-in inside United’s own half, after a brief spell of Chelsea pressure, found its way to Pogba. He fed Rashford who was away down the wing. Rashford delayed his cross until the Frenchman, who rampaged into the Chelsea box, was in position and found him perfectly. A powerful header was enough to beat Arrizabalaga, who might have done better, but this 14-minute spell was Pogba in a microcosm.
A brilliant assist, followed by a powerful run and header to score. This is the Paul Pogba, who with the right investment in the summer should be guiding his club to a title challenge. There are few better in the world from that position when in this form and United’s interim manager deserves credit as it is Solskjaer who has helped him discover these new levels. Right now, Pogba has never looked better. He has now scored fourteen goals from centre midfield for the Red Devils this season.
Despite Chelsea’s possession and whilst Matic in the second half can count himself fortunate to not have been sent off for a second yellow, United rarely looked in trouble. During the one instance where they managed to get in behind, there a wonderful intervention from Luke Shaw to deny Pedro a likely goal and way back into the match. However, the night belonged to United’s midfield and their interim manager.
This was United’s third win at Stamford Bridge since Roman Abramovic came to these shores fourteen years ago and better Red sides have failed to beat worse Chelsea teams during that time. Solskjaer’s record is since taking over is impressive and it would have been unfathomable to imagine such a confident performance under the previous manager.
Barring a huge turnaround in form, it is becoming difficult to imagine him not at the wheel next season.
by Charles Prisk