Football Features

Rashford & Co. spoil Lampard’s debut with Man Utd’s biggest-ever Premier League win vs. Chelsea

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:39, 11 August 2019

An incredible afternoon of football saw Manchester United beat Chelsea 4-0 at Old Trafford.

The Red Devils kicked off the season with their biggest-ever win against The Blues in the Premier League era. It was simultaneously a bizarre and brilliant victory, but what did we learn?

1. Winning with kids

When Manchester United sold Romelu Lukaku, they didn’t just sell guaranteed goals but experience too. And with Alexis Sánchez seemingly wandering in the ether, they had a very young forward line. None of their options were above 23 years of age, which is pretty ridiculous. It’s the kind of thing purists do in Football Manager, not in real life.

Well, here in real life, Manchester United’s goalscorers against Chelsea were 23, 21 and 21 years of age. Anthony Martial, back in his favoured no. 9 shirt scored a delightful poacher’s effort, sneaking a cross in from close range. Marcus Rashford bagged a brace, one an emphatic penalty and the other a magnificent effort on the counterattack complete with a supreme touch and a deadly finish. Then to cap it all off Daniel James came off the bench and skidded home a fourth goal via a deflection.

It’s early days yet, but maybe trusting in the unfettered confidence of youth was actually a great decision? We’ll see.

2. Zouma is a weak link on the left

Chelsea sold David Luiz on deadline day and probably felt alright about it because they had Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger on the books. And sure, that’s great, except that Rudiger is still not fully fit after his surgery in Spring and so Kurt Zouma had to start. Now, Zouma is a fine defender in his own right – but only on the right.

When he helped Chelsea win the 2014/15 Premier League, he played on the right of John Terry. And when he got his career back on track at Everton last year he played on the right of Michael Keane or Yerry Mina. That’s where he feels comfortable and able to play his natural game. Problem is, so does Christensen. And so today he lined up on the left, and as a result he looked shocking.

Zouma misplaced passes (almost handing United a goal in the process), failed to dominate his space, couldn’t make a tackle and gave away the penalty with a needless lunge at Marcus Rashford.

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3. United’s midfield mystery

Manchester United didn’t sign a central midfielder this summer. Nor a defensive one or an attacking one. Whether that’s because they felt their existing options were suitably talented to see through a season or simply that they couldn’t bring themselves to pay the fees they were quoted for new additions (e.g. £50m for Sean Longstaff) is almost immaterial – Manchester United have a bad midfield.

Well, when it comes to playing an expansive style of football.

Scott McTominay was arguably the best performer of the lot, making some tidy interceptions. But he was often found wanting whenever Chelsea pressed him even slightly. Andreas Pereira began the game man-marking Jorginho but ended it as a quasi-winger. To be honest United could have played him anywhere, he’s such a non-event wafer-thin kind of player from open play that there’s no point to him.

Then there’s Paul Pogba. A player whose undeniable world-class talent is matched only by his phenomenal ability to fluctuate between incredible to incompetent. Today was much more of the latter as he completely failed to stamp any sort of authority on the game. But then United switched styles and began to play on the break, and everything changed.

In the compressed space of a deep-block, Scott McTominay turned into an impenetrable impediment to Chelsea progress. Long limbs blocking shots. Suddenly Andreas Pereira could stay away from the ball until it was time to get into possession on the break. And Paul Pogba? Paul Pogba was now looking up and seeing acres of space ahead of him to ping his passes.

So what happened? Two of United’s midfielders got assists within a few minutes of each other (and one more later). First Pereira was the trailing man on a counter-attack and then slipped a gorgeous cross in for Anthony Martial. And then Paul Pogba picked the ball up well inside his own half and launched an ICBM of a pass to Marcus Rashford to make it 3-0. Then in the last 10 minutes rampaged into Chelsea’s half before teeing up Daniel James for a debut goal.

Manchester United want to play positive, proactive football. But they have a midfield that can only really handle playing on the break. It’s a mystery that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to solve if he wants United to thrive this season.

4. Chelsea have a fight on their hands

As much as Chelsea came very close to scoring in the first half, hitting the woodwork twice, in the end they were ritually humiliated by Manchester United. And alright two of their defensive pillars didn’t feature enough; N’Golo Kanté only played the last 30 minutes and Antonio Rudiger didn’t play at all, but they were so, so bad in the second half at Old Trafford.

Truth be told they weren’t even that good in the first-half, it was more a case of United being similarly incompetent as they tried to play expansive football. The difference is United didn’t make defensive mistakes and found their attacking rhythm. Chelsea made errors and then also had no idea what their rhythm was. They played youngsters, sure, but to what end? What style were they employing? No one knows.

And that’s a big, big problem. Sure they won’t always be coming away to Old Trafford, but the Premier League is no joke even outside the big six and so Chelsea’s ramshackle squad and non-existent tactical plan is going to have a real fight on their hands if they are to retain their top six place (let alone trying to get more).

5. Money well spent

This summer Manchester United spent £45m on Aaron Wan-Bissaka and £80m on Harry Maguire. Those fees were both considered to be too high, a result of United’s absurd largess. But transfer fees are always relative to the buying club, and Manchester United really really needed a quality right-back and centre-back.

On the pitch, we saw every penny of those colossal transfer fees. Wan-Bissaka and Maguire were both immense in the win to Chelsea, far surpassing even the impressive Victor Lindelof and David De Gea in the frequency and quality of their defensive actions. Maguire in particular seemed to have a sense of gravity to him, constantly drawing the ball into his orbit before violently ejecting it out into space.

Wan-Bissaka completed the most tackles in the game (6) whilst Maguire topped everyone on both sides for clearances (7) and interceptions (4) and was joint-top for blocks (2). The numbers confirm the dominance seen by the eyes. Yes, United spent a lot of money this summer, but on the evidence of Sunday’s supreme win against Chelsea they spent it very, very well.