After a dreadful performance and result in Rome for Chelsea in the Champions League blues fans were calling for fight. This season has brought many ups and downs for Chelsea fans so far, a win at Tottenham brightened spirits but losses to Crystal Palace and Burnley led to many questioning the team’s passion and desire. A 3-0 loss to Rome, however, proved to be the boiling point for Antonio Conte, after the game Conte spoke of how his side were “embarrassed” and with a massive game in the Premier League against rivals Manchester United lingering the world focused its attention on Stamford Bridge. Many pundits questioned how Conte would react in such a situation where perhaps his job could be in the balance. His first move was to drop David Luiz for Andreas Christensen and to bring N’Golo Kante back into the side playing an experimental 5-3-2 formation. It proved to be a masterstroke.
Chelsea and Manchester United started the game on the front foot perhaps unexpectedly considering the type of game some fans and pundits had expected coming into the clash. The suggestion was that Mourinho’s side would sit back and try to frustrate from the beginning, this was incorrect. Battles ensued in the midfield particularly and in the opening 15 minutes, both sides found it hard to assert themselves and to retain possession for long spells. After the 15-20 minute threshold, however, Chelsea began to run the game Cesc Fabregas, Tiemoue Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante, in particular, dominated the midfield and strangled the United midfield of any possession they gathered. Christensen looked assured filling in for Luiz and was distributing the ball extremely well producing 30/34 completed passes throughout the match. Indeed that battle between Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku and Andreas Christensen proved to be fascinating viewing as Christensen stifled the Belgian time and time again. Lukaku had a shot saved by Thibaut Courtois early in the match but in the game’s entirety, didn’t have a touch inside the Chelsea box. Christensen proving to the Premier League he is “big game ready” with 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, 4 won ariel duels and 3 clearances.
Chelsea’s forward Alvaro Morata proved to be the difference maker in the second half. The connection between himself and Cesar Azpilicueta again proved to be a pivotal moment, Azpilicueta drove upfield and drew Phil Jones out of position leaving Alvaro Morata unmarked in the box. Azpilicueta then delivered another incredible cross into the box to Morata’s head which then flew into the top corner leaving David De Gea stranded. The cross was Azpilicueta’s fifth assist of the season which last season would have seen him tied in the assist charts for defensive assists heading into the final week. Alvaro Morata’s header was a big moment for the Spaniard as he had struggled in bigger matches this season especially in games where he was being fouled so often. Morata’s header ensured that since the beginning of last season no player in the top 5 leagues has scored more goals with their head. Another Spaniard would win the lucrative player of the match award from Sky Sports though and this man was Cesc Fabregas. A decisive figure amongst Chelsea fans, some believe he is a bit of a luxury player other believe he adds a certain level of control to the side. Today, Fabregas certainly looked to add control as Chelsea gathered 56 percent of the game’s possession. Fabregas was key to this possessional success as he had 94 touches (the most of any player in the game) he also completed 78 passes in the game creating 6 clear cut chances.
The result takes Chelsea within striking distance of second place, now only 1 point behind Manchester United. The real success pf the day though was the way Antonio Conte got the team going. The passion that has been missing had returned and Chelsea looked far more like the reigning champions than anytime previously this season.