On Monday night, Chelsea took another step forward toward a league and cup double by defeating Manchester United 1-0 in a hotly-contested affair at Stamford Bridge.
Anyone looking for a match full of warm fuzzies was never going to like this one especially with the stakes involved in the match.
After a 4-0 defeat in United’s last match at Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho would not have wanted to endure another humiliation at Stamford Bridge, but in some ways, this defeat might have been worse.
In the time since these two teams met, the mood around the Bridge has certainly changed with the Chelsea supporters singing the name of their new manager from the start of the match and even taunting their former manager with songs of “you’re not special anymore” and Judas chants.
The atmosphere certainly was a reflection of the mood on the pitch in the first half. With injuries and suspensions hampering his available striking options, Mourinho sent United out with a clear mission to frustrate the hosts by closing down their opposition and keeping things tight in the midfield.
The early stages of the match very much resembled two boxers engaged in a feeling-out process with no side gaining a true advantage.
That all changed on 11 minutes when Marcus Rashford, who was a doubt due to illness, momentarily found himself in space on the edge of the Chelsea area. Cesar Azpilicueta scrambled the ball away, but it fell to Henrikh Mkhitaryan whose shot flashed wide of the post.
Eden Hazard found a way of escaping the tight marking of United, turning Chris Smalling near the halfway line before skinning two defenders before David De Gea got a fingertip on Hazard’s deflected shot.
From the ensuing corner, Gary Cahill held off Marcos Rojo and controlled a ball near the penalty spot. His shot from seven yards seemed destined for the bottom corner of the net, but once again, De Gea’s strong hand prevented a goal.
Hazard continued to be a thorn in United’s side every time he touched the ball, and United’s defenders and midfielders perhaps sensed something needed to be done.
Ander Herrera was the first to enter the referee’s book when body-checked Hazard to stop him from latching on to a return pass after an attempted one-two. Paul Pogba was the next one to put a strong challenge as Hazard looked to wheel away from the Frenchman.
Phil Jones’ blatant push on Hazard near the halfway line seemed to be the last straw for referee Michael Oliver, calling over Chris Smalling for a quick chat with the Manchester United captain. Jones escaped a booking, but just seconds later, Herrera wouldn’t be so lucky.
After the restart, Hazard received the ball, and two touches later was clipped late by Herrera earning the Spaniard a second yellow and trip down the tunnel, but not without him and his teammates expressing their feelings to Oliver.
It mattered very little. United were down to 10 men and Chelsea began to step through the gears. Chelsea began to dominate the ball and move it efficiently in an attempt to open up the stubborn United defence.
The breakthrough came from an unlikely source. N’Golo Kante isn’t known for his goal-scoring ability, but he found himself in acres of space 25 yards out in the centre of the pitch. With a little touch to the right first, Kante stroked the ball into the bottom left corner beyond the despairing dive of De Gea.
United very nearly fired back when David Luiz misjudged a header and allowed Rashford a free run at goal. Rashford turned Gary Cahill every which way, only to see his shot saved by the legs of Thibault Courtois, who had very little to do to that point.
Chelsea should have been well clear in the second half with Diego Costa having two chances to give his side the two-goal advantage. From a corner, Costa found himself completely unmarked in the box, but failed to make contact with his header, and the ball bounced off his shoulder and wide. Costa also failed to make contact with a cross from Willian, after Willian had skipped past a challenge from Rojo.
Cesc Fabregas could have added the second two minutes into stoppage time after a Chelsea counter, but his shot from just inside the area was stopped by De Gea, sending the home side on a trip to Wembley.