Sunday 25 February 2018

United's character and spirit seals biggest result of our season

What a massive win that was. Not only did it open up a six point gap to Chelsea and the chasing pack, but it put us back up to second and was undoubtedly our biggest and most important result of the season.
Things didn't look too clever when Willian put Chelsea ahead shortly after the half hour mark with Antonio Conte's side having started superbly. Our poor record against the west London side - coupled with the Reds waning powers of recovery - and you could see why many of us were worried. Only four times under Jose have we turned a losing position into a win: against Middlesbrough on New Year's Eve last season, in an FA Cup tie at Blackburn a couple of months later, this season's home tie with Newcastle and the visit of CSKA Moscow to Old Trafford - all were won after falling 1-0 down. A far cry from a team who once prided ourselves on snatching improbable victories from the very jaws of defeat, but there were glimpses of that spirit here. 

To come from behind against any team is always a test of credentials, but especially so against a side with the quality and talent of Antonio Conte's men. The Chelsea of last season would probably have closed this out, but United seized on the visitors lingering vulnerability and, in the end, there can have no complaints about the result. The Blues looked stronger in the first half as United struggled to get a foothold but - galvanised by the timely leveller five minutes before the break - we were on the front foot after the break. There have been critics aplenty for the team in recent weeks, but United showed immense character and courage to fight back for a win that's massive in the context of our season.  Chelsea may be a shadow of the side that romped to the title last season, but they are still an excellent team. Beating them might not be as special as getting one over on City or Liverpool, but it still leaves you with a lovely feeling.

Romelu Lukaku was man of the match for an absolutely magnificent performance in which the striker was at his best - he scored the equaliser, set up the winner, almost scored a goal of the season contender and proved a constant menace throughout with his blistering pace, power and strength. The moment that typified Lukaku's day came in the dying minutes with Chelsea pressing. He won the ball on the edge of his own box, turned his marker and burst forward, leaving five Chelsea defenders for dead. It may not have ended in a goal, but his driving run got us up the pitch and helped us run the clock down. Lukaku has often been criticised for his performances in the biggest ties, but here he played with a point to prove against his former side. It was his best game in the red of United to date. He rose to the occasion and swung the match in our favour in a way that opposite number Alvaro Morata - who we nearly signed instead - could not.

 This was a day that proved Jose's oft-talked about and much maligned methods can still get the job done in these big ties - something that has been a concern.
Not only was this a welcome win in one of the league's most high profile fixtures against a difficult opponent, but we also moved back above that lot from down the East Lancs Road - and that's always something to shout about. Get in there!

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