Ahead of gameweek 26, the main focus was the incoming battle between Chelsea and Manchester United, two clubs who used to go neck to neck with one another for the league title back in the early years of the 21st century, but are now challenging it out with one another for a top four position.
Going into the game, the main thoughts were purely on how both teams would react following the long winter break, as neither of the sides have entered into 2020 in winning spirits and have been failing to show consistency. A win for Frank Lampard’s men would have killed United’s chances of finishing in the top four whilst extending their gap in fourth place away from both Spurs and Sheffield United, meanwhile, the three points for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team would be a huge sigh of relief for himself and the players, who have been criticised by the English press in recent weeks.
Overall, if one was to see the actual match and compare it to the end result, you would be shocked with the amount of chances that the hosts had from the first second of the game until the final whistle, as they were unable to convert their attempts on goal into the back of net. And in the end, despite the two goals that were cancelled out in the second half, they had only completed one shot on goal in the whole game, which is not good enough for a top-four side that are playing at home.
On the other hand, United showed how clinical and effective they are in the big games, where they are able produce something out of nothing and are always posing a threat through Anthony Martial and Daniel James. Surprisingly for the visitors, both their goals had actually come from headers, which has not been the usual way of scoring for them, especially with their difficulties on set-pieces.
In the end, United picked up the much needed victory, allowing them to move up to seventh place and three points behind Chelsea, who have a tough run of fixtures that are coming up which includes facing the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Manchester City. The result at Stamford Bridge is what the Premier League supporters would have hoped for, as the race to finish in the top four will continue till the final day of the season whilst the challenge for the league title is already over.
With no further ado, here are the three things we learnt from United’s latest league game…
Bruno Fernandes went on to complete quite a performance
Completing one assist, three key passes, 31 passes at a success rate of 79.5% and 54 touches on the ball, Bruno Fernandes had put on quite the performance in the number ten role, where he was also playing more as a false nine from time to time. With how quickly he has settled into English football, the chances of him being an expensive flop is really minimal as showed his intelligence on and off the ball as well as his immaculate positional awareness in what was his second game for United.
Looking at the understanding and chemistry he has formed with the likes of Fred, Daniel James and even Anthony Martial, there is no doubt that he can play a pivotal role in helping the side to finish the season on a high, as he is starting to show that he is the one to link the side’s attack from midfield. Once the individuals in Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay return from injury, the team will have the perfect balance in midfield, which will allow Bruno Fernandes to play at his absolute best.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has his setup and tactics spot on again in a big game
For sure, there are many valid questions and pure hesitation about Solskjaer’s shocking record and performances when it comes against the so-called lower teams. However, the results against the top-six sides continue to stay strong and does speak for itself, as Ole has now done the double over Chelsea, which has actually not been done by a Manchester United manager in a really long time.
Within the back-five setup, it helped the team to be more compact in their own half, especially with Luke Shaw being effective as the third centre-back and the fact that Eric Bailly’s return was more than ever needed, someone who is seen as the side’s best defender. And on top of that, the effort put in by the wing-backs up and down the flank as well as from Fred through the middle was second to none, as they were able to stretch the Chelsea defence and cause them several problems.
VAR intervened on a few occasions with nearly all the correct calls
There has been a huge debate about whether the VAR system is actually useful or not, since the start of the footballing season up until now. Despite many decisions going against and for a club, it has to be seen as a fact, that nearly all the outcomes produced by this method have turned out to be correct. It may take a couple of minutes or so to review an event, which could unsettle the players and the supporters, but as long as the decisions are right, there should be no arguments at all.
Besides the outcome of the kickout from Harry Maguire on Michy Batshuayi, which could be analysed and reviewed in a number of ways, with no red card shown following the incident, the rest of the decisions made by the officials was spot on, including the moment where they had to cancel Kurt Zouma’s goal due to a foul in the build-up and Olivier Giroud’s goal because he was marginally offside. Although VAR is not a smooth and straightforward process at this moment of time, but it definitely will be soon or later, when the Football Association will go over how the method is used once the season comes to an end, and think of ideas on how to improve how it is implemented.