An Alvaro Morata header was enough to beat Manchester United as Chelsea and Antonio Conte managed a vital victory at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea responded to their midweek humiliation in Rome with a fantastic performance against Manchester United to move a point behind the Red Devils in the Premier League table. The combination that has proved so fruitful for the Blues throughout this season was the difference, as a Cesar Azpilicueta cross from defeat was expertly headed home by Alvaro Morata.
Morata’s fantastic header was symbolic of Chelsea’s overall performance. The Champions were rejuvenated this evening and back to the form that they and their main striker enjoyed back in September. The result that league leaders Manchester City enjoyed earlier this afternoon to extend their already sizable lead at the top meant both teams had to play for three points at Stamford Bridge, and as a result this was an open, challenging fixture that Chelsea had to perform strongly in to gain the three points they undoubtedly deserved.
In such an open game – quite the opposite to what many expected Mourinho to allow – the battle for midfield control is often what decides who will be victorious. N’Golo Kante’s return to Chelsea’s starting eleven therefore couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Chelsea are almost twice the team they are with Kante than they are without. The energetic Frenchman offers the Blues so much control and security within a game, but also allows those sharing the pitch with him to express themselves considerably more. With this in mind, it was no coincidence that Cesc Fabregas had his best game in weeks today.
Kante makes SUCH a difference. #CFC
— Breathe Chelsea (@BreatheChels) November 5, 2017
Chelsea had a lot more chances than Manchester United and Fabregas was the creator for a large percentage of those attempts. Supporters were treated to a number of angled, lofted through balls that they have become so familiar with since Fabregas joined the club back in 2014, though it was another Spaniard, Cesar Azpilicueta, who provided that all important lofted pass to Alvaro Morata for the match-winning goal.
The major talking point prior to kick off was that David Luiz was absent from the Chelsea 18 for today’s game. Antonio Conte confirmed in a pre-match interview that the Brazilian was not injured, and that his omission from the squad was “a tactical decision”. Of course, it is likely there is far more to it than that, but Conte will be delighted that Chelsea showed today that they could cope without Luiz after making such a brave call.
Following Morata’s goal, United naturally made an even stronger attempt to score a goal and get back into the game as Mourinho brought on Marouane Fellani and Anthony Martial. Yet Chelsea’s defence remained firm even with that change in United style, and Andreas Christensen deserves particular credit for his sturdy display as the replacement for Luiz. Though never afraid to make a big call, Conte will have known how many questions there would be if he were to lose this game without Luiz, yet Christensen, along with Cahill, Azpilicueta and Rudiger, who replaced Zappacosta in light of Fellaini’s introduction, ensured their boss would face no such awkward enquiries for now.
The most important factor determining Conte’s post-match mood was of course the result though, and the Italian will be delighted with the dramatic improvement his side showed to get this victory after such a poor showing in Rome on Wednesday. Eden Hazard was predictably brilliant and like Fabregas caused United problems all afternoon, while the tenacity and determination Morata showed in addition to his goal is a fantastic sign for Chelsea going forward. The mood surrounding the club going into this international break will dramatically contrast the feeling had heading into the last one following the defeat against City.
The taste of a 1-0 win over United and Jose Mourinho is a far sweeter than what was caused by Kevin De Bruyne on his return to Stamford Bridge last month. The shared problem for both Chelsea and Manchester United though, is that this result is also exactly what Manchester City will have wanted.