Football Features

“Tammy Abraham is gold dust” – Five things learned as Man Utd complete league double over Chelsea

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:17, 17 February 2020

In a bizarre night of football, Manchester United beat Chelsea 0-2 at Stamford Bridge.

The win completed United’s first league double over the Blues since 1988 and moved Solskjaer‘s men to just three points off fourth place. What did we learn?

1. Big Bruno is a cut above

Manchester United have been crying out for a dominant playmaking midfielder all season. Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic are good blockers, Fred is an excellent workhorse who knows how to keep things ticking over, but none of them can replicate the kind of stellar creativity that Paul Pogba, who has missed most of the season through injury, offers.

Bruno Fernandes, however, can very much bring the kind of quality United are desperate for. The Portuguese, despite playing just his second game for United, put in a low-key sublime performance. Fernandes’ movement was so intelligent, always making himself available for team-mates. Then when he did get the ball, he was able to exchange passes with team-mates and up the tempo of the match in an instant.

It’s clear that Bruno Fernandes is a cut above and that was evident all over his performance even before you get to his magnificent assist for Harry Maguire’s goal. United scoring from corners is so rare, but if Fernandes can keep on delivering crosses like that? Expect business to pick up from set-pieces which, given how much they can struggle creatively, could be absolutely immense.

2. Chelsea’s finishing school

It is somewhat ironic that since developing into an excellent “finishing school” for young players this season, bringing through the likes of Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Reece James, that their actual ability to finish chances, especially at Stamford Bridge, has become some quizzically unrealiable.

Tonight against Manchester United was a particularly egregious example of poor finishing from stand-in striker Michy Batshuayi. The veteran Belgian got the start due to Abraham’s injury and instead of making the most of that instead showed just why, even though he’s far from complete himself, Tammy Abraham is gold dust to the Blues.

Batshuayi seemed to be on a personal mission to miss chances. Chelsea served him up with two glorious looks at the United goal. Really clean chances to bury the Red Devils. And each time he blazed it wide of the target. Seriously, neither shot was even close. All in all Chelsea had 17 shots and hit the target just once, so others missed more chances, but the quality of Batshuayi’s chances and his status as a striker really made the whole thing almost offensive in every way except the one that Chelsea would have wanted it to be.

3. Eric B. is President

All season, Manchester United have been getting by with Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire as their central defensive partnership. Somehow despite being good to great defenders individually, the pair weren’t good together. Well, it’s not somehow: they’re too similar and neither has any recovery pace. Both men would be better served if they were partnered by someone with athletic ability.

Like Eric Bailly.

Tonight the Ivorian finally made a start for United this season and we saw exactly how much he improves the defence by virtue of being athletic and also having stupendous instincts both in terms of taking risks and pushing up but also dropping back and making last ditch interceptions. He covered for Maguire on several occasions, and alongside Aaron Wan-Bissaka formed a more impenetrable defensive flank that could handle themselves but also was able to cover for the leakier left side.

If United can keep Bailly fit, he could transform the quality of their defence and thus their entire side.

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4. The agonies of VAR

VAR has always been a fickle beast. Given that is has nothing to do with hard-and-fast correct decisions and is all about interpretation and referees, whether those on the pitch or in a central office somewhere, making a call on what they see.

So sometimes things can just go against you, as they did for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard‘s men cannot solely blame VAR for their defeat, but it certainly played a huge part. First it allowed Harry Maguire to remain on the pitch after he clearly kicked out on Michy Batshuayi (doubly painful given he later scored the game-killing second goal), then it adjudged Willian dove when he was in fact fouled and should have been awarded a free-kick.

Sure it got the call on Kurt Zouma’s goal right, disallowing it for a push; but then when Olivier Giroud headed a goal back for Chelsea the goal was ruled out because the front half of his foot was offside. The front half of his foot! Precision offside decisions run counter to the entire spirit of the offside law and it’s abysmal that VAR causes the referees to side with the defenders.

5. The mule with the spinning wheel

Watching the match unfold at Stamford Bridge, one thing was abundantly clear from first whistle to last: Manchester United with possession are a little like the mule with the spinning wheel; no one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it!

The Red Devils are a staggeringly bad outfit when they have the ball in their grasp. One would have hoped the winter break and addition of a genuinely great midfielder like Bruno Fernandes would have allowed United to sort themselves out, but no, they could barely string five passes together when trying anything more ambitious than five yard laterals between centre-backs. Even their goal was a surprise as Aaron Wan-Bissaka pulled a superb turn-and-cross out of nowhere. It wasn’t a superb attacking move, it was a miracle play.

Watching United trying to pass out from the back was hysterical, or tragic depending on your view. And when they had the lead they were incapable of keeping the ball in order play out time and consistently surrendered it to the Blues. They couldn’t even put together a half-decent counter-attack which is their bread-and-butter. Maguire and Fernandes both agreed after the game that they could “do better with the ball” and that is a massive understatement.

Only Michy Batshuayi’s staggeringly poor finishing married with Chelsea’s own sloppy ball-work allowed United to avoid defeat tonight and they only had three shots on target, one of which was right at the death. So even though the Red Devils now moved to within three points of Chelsea in fourth place, there is much still to be done if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is to solve United’s possession problem.

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