Manchester United finally rose to the occasion against Chelsea and defeated the Premier League leaders for the first time since 2012.
The 2-0 victory at Old Trafford has cut Chelsea’s lead at the top to four points and they have a red-hot Tottenham breathing down their necks in second.
Earlier this season, Chelsea demolished United 4-0 at Stamford Bridge to give Jose Mourinho an embarrassing return to his former and most famously associated club.
Things didn’t get much better when the Red Devils faced Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals last month and, largely in thanks to an early Ander Herrera red card, fell to another defeat, this time 1-0.
Fans could be forgiven for thinking that Antonio Conte had Mourinho’s number and United were simply second best to Chelsea.
But Mourinho and his United players proved a big point yesterday when they deservedly put Chelsea to bed and the Special One has explained just how they did it.
“I want to say I was convinced even before the cup that controlling the two players that played behind Diego [Costa],” Mourinho explained, via Manchester Evening News.
“Sometimes Hazard, sometimes Hazard-Pedro controlling the position of these two players, and controlling the full-backs because they go really deep with two wide men would create them lots of problems.
“And I repeat the same: They are phenomenal in counter-attack, and when they have the ball it’s more difficult for them and when they have the ball we are compact and when they try to play counter-attack we were always in control of these link positions.
“Diego is very dangerous but the two link positions are the two positions we have to control. We did that at Stamford Bridge when we played with 11, with 10 it was more difficult and today we controlled.”
Mourinho has always been an astute tactician and after falling twice to Chelsea, there was no way he wasn’t going to learn some lessons this time around.
It must be said the electric Marcus Rashford was a major difference too, offering a counter-attacking threat in behind for the home side that left Chelsea petrified all game long.
Now Mourinho has outclassed the Chelsea hoodoo, can United go on to secure Champions League football next season? Retaining Zlatan Ibrahimovic may depend on it.
Mourinho’s starting line-up against Chelsea raised eyebrows, with Ibrahimovic on the bench and Anthony Martial nowhere to be seen – but the end result, and the manner of United’s victory, demonstrated just how brilliantly he had set up his team.
With Ibrahimovic out, the pace and movement of Rashford and Lingard offered the sort of threat that troubled Chelsea instantly. Rashford had missed one good chance before coolly directing a finish past Begovic early on.
The real masterstroke, however, was his decision to deploy Herrera as Hazard’s shadow throughout. The Belgian, who Conte felt was a deliberate target for physical punishment in the recent FA Cup quarter-final, was totally snuffed out by Herrera, who covered his every move and forced him to the margins on a miserable afternoon for Chelsea.
And, to make Mourinho’s day complete, it was Herrera who escaped Hazard’s attentions to find space in the area and send that deflected shot high into the net at the Stretford End for the home side’s crucial second goal.