Chelsea hosted Manchester United this past weekend in what was supposed to be a tightly-contested match between two clubs trying to challenge for the Premier League title alongside the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester City. What we got, instead, was a comprehensive dismantling of the Red Devils that highlighted all the areas that they desperately need to improve. Unfortunately for Jose Mourinho, his return to his old stomping ground was an afternoon to forget. We’re going to have a look at some of the biggest insights this match delivered:
United have almost no team chemistry:
Despite their good win in midweek against Fenerbahce, Manchester United have yet to indicate that their starting XI isn’t just filled with individually talented players putting in good performances. Specific players like Pogba, Ibrahimovic, or Rashford have all had strong individual performances at different points during the season, but the team as a whole hasn’t shown any convincing amount of cohesion. This is likely down to the fact that Jose Mourinho has failed to settle on a favoured starting line up. Players have been swapped between positions and dropped or rested, resulting in what appears to be an unsettled squad that has yet to find any rhythm. Mourinho will need to make a decision on what formation he wants to use and which players best suit that decision, United won’t achieve the required amount of cohesion if their manager doesn’t know his best team.
Eden Hazard is back to his best:
It may seem like ages ago, but if we dial back a few short months Eden Hazard was a forgotten and forlorn attacking midfielder whose contributions were nothing short of average in a floundering Chelsea side barely able to keep themselves in the top half of the table. Fast forward through an axed manager, some well deserved rest and new tactical setup and the potential Ballon d’Or winner may have been resurrected. Without the stifling defensive tasks Mourinho asked him to perform last season Hazard has been allowed to revert back to the mercurial free floating forward that delivered Chelsea a title a few seasons ago. Hazard is a player that performs best when left to his own devices, where he can move between formational lines and exploit gaps in the opposition defence at his leisure. Antonio Conte’s decision to move to a 3-4-3 system has freed Hazard from any defensive role and allowed him to concentrate only on carrying the ball forward and creating chances.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic alone won’t score enough goals for United:
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a name the commentators had almost no reason to speak for the entire 90 minutes. When he initially joined the Red Devils, he was pinned as being their most prolific source of goals. While he hasn’t exactly disappointed with 4 goals in 9 games, he isn’t looking very comfortable either. Ibrahimovic has had to
play a lot of football and unfortunately the Premier League isn’t a forgiving environment for a 34-year-old that doesn’t recuperate as quickly as his younger counterparts. Jose Mourinho may need to come to terms with the possibility that playing Zlatan as the lone No. 9 will be effective against smaller teams but will have limited success against quality sides that have central defenders capable of going toe to toe with the imposing Swede.
Yes, Antonio Conte is managing the Premier League just fine:
One of the first criticisms leveled at newcomers to England is that they’ll need to adapt to English football. It’s a fair point since English football is quite unique. Conte appeared a little out of his depth in the initial games but since he switched to his 3-4-3 system and adjusted Chelsea’s tactical setup, they’ve been looking extremely comfortable from defence through to attack. What makes Chelsea’s turn in fortunes even more impressive is that Conte took over a team that finished 10th a season ago and was devoid of any confidence. After a relatively modest transfer window compared to the Manchester clubs he’s got a well-drilled and cohesive unit looking every bit as capable of challenging for the title as anyone else.
United aren’t out of it yet:
United should be thankful that the current season is one of the most competitive Premier League seasons we’ve seen in a long time. Arsenal, City and Liverpool are all tied on 20 points, while Spurs and Chelsea are level on 19. United are currently in 7th with 14 points behind Everton. While 7th sounds rather bad, in reality they’re only 5 points outside a top 4 place and only 6 away from pole position. With so many teams capable of winning the league the high profile games have become much more important than in previous seasons. United have faced City, Liverpool and Chelsea in the league and are set for a slightly more forgiving fixture list in the coming weeks. With other big teams likely to drop points against one another, United may be granted an opportunity to claw their way back into contention. For that to happen, though, Mourinho will need to sort out the waning confidence in his squad and find his best starting line up in short order. If United miss out on easy points in what should be more manageable fixtures they could forfeit Champions League football for a second year running, which would be a bit of a disaster.
Chelsea are showing remarkable signs of improvement while United’s star studded team just can’t seem to click, could the Blues be mounting a legitimate title bid the season after finishing in 10th?
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