Chelsea eased the pressure on manager Antonio Conte with an impressive 1-0 win over Manchester United. A wonderful headed goal from Alvaro Morata 10 minutes into the second half separated the sides, though United had keeper David De Gea to thank for restricting the margin of victory. The visitors had their chances but Chelsea, looking assured and confident with defensive midfield dynamo N’Golo Kante back in their ranks, stood firm and were deserved winners.
Following the shambolic midweek display at Roma, Chelsea’s stars needed to stand up and be counted and put in a performance; to a man, they played for the manager and for each other. Kante’s return to the starting XI was always going to be a massive boost and so it proved.
Chelsea should have scored more than one goal. The reason they didn’t wasn’t just down to De Gea’s ability as a goal-keeper — poor finishing was perhaps more to blame. Bakayoko and Morata were both guilty in this respect, and on another day such wastefulness might have cost the Blues a result.
Manager rating out of 10
9 — To say this was a must-win game for Conte might be taking it a bit far, but you never know at Chelsea where managerial job security can hang by a thread very quickly. With form patchy and tales of dressing room unrest bubbling to the surface, the Blues’ boss needed a fully committed display from his team and that’s exactly what he got. Conte’s team selection, tactics and substitutions were spot on and his name was repeatedly cheered by an appreciative crowd.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 8 — An important first-half save from Romelu Lukaku prevented United from seizing the initiative and Courtois was subsequently and superbly equal to a late effort from Marouane Fellaini to ensure a clean sheet and victory.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 9 — Another outstanding display from Mr. Versatile. Commanding at centre-back, he was equally adept going forward and delivered an excellent ball to Morata for the striker’s headed goal. Shifted out to right wing-back just after the hour mark in a tactical switch by Conte, Azpilicueta remained a model of professional consistency.
DF Andreas Christensen, 8 — A cultured, composed performance from the 21-year old Denmark international, who was unfazed by the opposition and unflappable under pressure. Christensen’s ability to read the game and play the ball out of defence was admirable and, on this evidence, he deserves to retain his place.
DF Gary Cahill, 7 — Cahill has come in for stern and rightful criticism for his part in the Blues’ recent defensive debacles and so against United it was time to lead by example. That’s exactly what Chelsea’s skipper did.
WB Davide Zappacosta, 6 — Had an engaging duel on the right flank with Ashley Young, which the United man shaded at times. Made a couple of telling crosses that deserved a better end product. Withdrawn on 66 minutes in a tactical switch; with Azpilicueta fielded in the position, United’s threat was neutralised.
WB Marcos Alonso, 6 — Just as Zappacosta got little change out of Young, so Alonso found Antonio Valencia a stubborn opponent on the opposite flank In the end, both players effectively cancelled each other out.
MF N’Golo Kante, 9 — With the France international back pulling the strings from his deep-lying midfield position, there was a confidence and swagger about the Blues redolent of last season when they won the title. Kante was imperious.
MF Tiemoue Bakayoko, 7 — Bristled with enthusiasm and energy that United found difficult to contain, particularly in the first half when the dynamic midfielder put himself about all over the pitch. A more measured, calm approach might have brought the 23-year-old a goal or two, but he snatched at his chances. Maturity will come, though.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 7 — Played some delightful passes and linked up well with Morata, Bakayoko and Hazard as Chelsea outplayed United from midfield, particularly in the first half. Worked hard and was replaced late on by Danny Drinkwater.
FW Eden Hazard, 8 — Hazard’s effectiveness in traumatising United’s defence could probably be measured by the number of times he found himself dumped on the floor by over-assertive challenges. Both Phil Jones and Ander Herrera were booked for fouling Chelsea’s creative wizard, who was twice denied a goal by excellent keeping from De Gea.
FW Alvaro Morata, 8 — Without a goal since September, Morata chose the right game to remind Chelsea supporters of his ability with a stupendous header that looped beyond De Gea. Up to that point the United keeper had looked unbeatable. Morata fluffed an arguably easier chance to finish the game late on but it mattered little.
Substitutes: No rating after 70 minutes.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 — Came on for Zappacosta and went into the back three, allowing Azpilicueta to go wide. The move proved seamless for Conte as Rudiger maintained Chelsea’s solidity.
MF Danny Drinkwater, NR — Replaced Fabregas for the final 10 minutes and offered fresh legs and dynamism, which helped close the game out.
FW Willian, NR — A late replacement for Hazard, he still had time to create a great chance for Morata.