Considering that Chelsea were on pace to win 180-0 after thirty seconds, having to settle for just the garden variety 4-0 is almost as embarrassing as returning to the place where you once ruled the world, but now could only watch many of the same players who once “betrayed” you, continue to undermine your best laid plans. Right, José?
Okay, that’s all the trolling we’re going to do. Let’s talk about magnificent Chelsea.
After wins of 2-0 and 3-0 over Hull City and Leicester City, respectively, Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 was set for its biggest test yet. An unchanged lineup from last week, despite the return to availability for both Willian and Oscar, gave the task of containing Zlatan Ibrahimović to the Cahill, David Luiz, Azpilicueta trio, the task of containing Paul Pogba to the Matić, Kanté duo, and the task of exposing United’s defense to the Hazard, Costa, Pedro trio. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses continued as our wing-backs, having impressed in back-to-back games.
Manchester United made one change from their previous match, a dour 0-0 draw at Liverpool, with Jesse Lingard replacing Ashley Young on the right wing. Thirty seconds into the match, Chelsea’s goal arrived just from that flank.
During the Euros, one of the most obvious patterns of play for Antonio Conte’s Italy was the quick, first-time ball over the top from a midfielder and it was just such a pass from Marcos Alonso that found United’s defense fast asleep. Smalling and Bailly nullified each other, De Gea was caught in no man’s land, and the sneaky Pedro was left with an easy finish. Chelsea never looked back.
Other than United trying to isolate Zlatan or Fellaini on Azpilicueta — we’ll recall Mourinho’s obsession with height — the visitors posed little threat. Chelsea were quicker to the ball, quicker to close down, quicker to create, and quicker to defend. The boys in blue would later pay for their initial exertions with a period of United ascendancy in the second half, but because said exertions paid dividends in the first half, the strategy was proven sound.
Despite the Red Devils fielding a lineup of veritable giants, Chelsea were finding plenty of joy on set pieces as well. Moses and Hazard were trading off on corner duty, and it was the latter who flashed a snap-shot just wide after a training ground routine found him open at the top of box. He then turned creator, and as United failed to clear the harmless-looking delivery, Gary Cahill found himself in the right place at the right time. His unstoppable shot doubled Chelsea’s lead and we had barely played 20 minutes.
Cahill’s 19th Premier League goal of his career, and his 19th in all competitions for Chelsea. A wonderful reward for the captain (Terry was on the bench; Ivanović injured) who had such a bad time of things just a month ago.
The chances kept coming, mostly for Chelsea with Hazard, Costa, and Pedro looking threatening with every foray forward. Probably could’ve been even more threatening were it not for a couple errant passes on the break from Pedro, or a couple instances of Costa being too selfish and putting his head down instead of finding a teammate, or Hazard shirking away from direct running. Usual issues we’re all familiar with, but up 2-0 already, the frustration with them was less palpable.
Mourinho made one change at the break, bringing on former Chelsea back-to-back Player of the Year Juan Mata. The Special Juan unsurprisingly made United much more dangerous and the visitors started pushing for the all-important next goal. Calling a 2-0 the most dangerous lead is a bit dramatic, but it definitely felt like that next goal would decide the game.
Perhaps slightly against the run of play, that next goal fell Chelsea’s way. The Blues were struggling a bit for possession, and the counters were not coming off (either through our own mistakes, or through strategic fouls by the likes of Bailly), so when Hazard got on the ball, he wisely just held it up for a minute and let everyone settle down. And then he quickly shifted through the gears, passing it off to Kanté, who in turn laid it off to Matić, who split the defense with a perfect first-time through ball back to Hazard. One quick drop of the shoulder later, his shot was nestling into the back of the net, past the despairing late dive of David de Gea. Game, set, match.
Nemanja Matić has quietly collected his fifth assist of the season, fourth in the Premier League to lead all players alongside Kevin De Bruyne and Dmitri Payet. No, this is not a joke.
No player has more assists (4) in the Premier League this season than Nemanja Matic.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 23, 2016
You heard us: Nemanja Matic. pic.twitter.com/qaUsHE64Sm
The icing on Chelsea’s cake came barely ten minutes later via a ridiculously great goal from N’Golo Kanté, who danced through much of United’s defense (Ramires vs. Manchester City-style) before coolly slotting into the far corner for his first Chelsea goal. Pedro’s hustle created the opportunity; the former Barcelona veteran putting in his best performance for Chelsea against the manager who brought him to the team in the first place.
There were still 20 minutes left on the clock, but the match was long over. Nathaniel Chalobah was first off the bench, just as he was last week, followed shortly after by Michy Batshuayi and Willian as Conte switched out the entire attacking trident. The match fell into a bit of lull, as did the fans, which is probably what irked Conte the most from today. The head coach’s urging of the home crowd to make some noise (ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?) apparently did not sit well with Mourinho, but I’d venture to guess that very little from today sat well with him.
There was time enough for Thibaut Courtois to make a couple more good saves and ensure his third clean sheet in a row. Chelsea have now won our last three games by scorelines of 2-0, 3-0, and 4-0. So, 5-0 against West Ham or Wednesday?