Monday 18 February 2019

Immense United lay ghosts of Stamford Bridge to rest

How can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer not get this job now? If anyone was still in any doubt over the capabilities of United's caretaker manager, this was the night when those lingering questions were dispatched as emphatically as the Stamford Bridge crowd's patience.
With the tide turning seemingly beyond repair for beleaguered Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, opposite number Solskjaer continues to build a body of overwhelming evidence that will persuade United's infamously star struck hierarchy to break with tradition and give the Norwegian the nod. This is more than merely a new manager bounce, it's not luck, Ole has shown serious tactical nous, game management and instilled courage and spirit into a group of Manchester United players that are unrecognisable.

United's last win here came in 2012 when times were very different. Sir Alex Ferguson was still in charge, there was little sign of seismic Old Trafford change (the Boss would leave at the end of the season) and the Reds were on the way to our 13th Premier League title. Javier Hernandez was scoring against European champions Chelsea, and the home side were left feeling Blue at the start of a run that spelt the beginning of the end for manager Roberto Di Matteo. Under unpopular replacement Rafael Benitez, the Blues went on to win the Europa League, paving the way for the return of a certain Jose Mourinho at the end of the season.

Since then, United have been to Chelsea's SW6 home eleven times. They've drawn two and lost nine, in what has been the unhappiest hunting ground of them all. Three short months ago, as the season capitulated under that very same Mourinho, you'd have got long, nigh on impossible, odds, of the team breaking that suffocating stranglehold. As the saying goes, there are three things certain in life: death, taxes and Chelsea beating United at Stamford Bridge. No matter how well we've played, no matter what form Chelsea have been in, it has been a succession of controversies, hard luck stories, and heroic failures. Six years on, there was none of that. In front of United's watching knight of realm, perched high up in the post seats at Stamford Bridge, this was a performance befitting of the great man. It was a night in which United well and truly banished their demons and laid the Stamford Bridge ghosts to rest.

Indeed, not since Louis van Gaal's 'Juanfield' masterpiece in 2015 has there been a United performance quite like this one. It was the best we have seen for years, especially away from home. Equally as devastating without the ball as we were with it, United showed class and then character, grit and then guile, to race into a 2-0 lead. Arguably the two most improved players under Ole - and our standout performers on the night - Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba, did the damage.
Even after half-time when Chelsea monopolised possession after the break, Sarri's side simply ran themselves into a brick wall and had no answer to the Reds magnificent organisation, discipline and resilience.  It was an absolute masterpiece and one that showed both sides of United's tactical blueprint.

 Pogba was named man of the match as he got an assist and scored, but it was an accolade that could have gone to anyone. Every player was absolutely immense - to a man and from front to back. Chris Smalling barely put a foot wrong, Victor Lindelof showed why he's now one of the best defenders in the land and even Romelu Lukaku did his bit. Herrera was simply magnificent as the scourge of the Stamford Bridge side. Buzzing about as Chelsea's tormentor in chief as he has done so often,  Herrera harried and hassled the usually metronomic N'golo Kante into submission. First to every tackle, header and second ball, the little Basque was both omnipresent and omnipotent. Starved of service by the attentions of Juan Mata, Jorginho was rendered anonymous. Luke Shaw picked up a painful knock flying into a last ditch challenge to thwart a dangerous attack. To a man, the Reds were everything we could have asked: the lads worked like dogs, played like kings and were fierce in every department without the sacrifice of flair.  A complete display and one in which United swarmed all over Sarri's side like men possessed.

Solskjaer was stripped of Lingard and Martial but still produced a positive gameplan based around aggression, the drive of Pogba and the searing pace of Marcus Rashford. Is there a better player in world football right now than Pogba?

Ole's at the wheel!!

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