Antonio Conte’s men were victorious against Manchester United in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, with N’Golo Kante’s goal being the difference between the two sides and ensuring a place in the semi final at Wembley.
There are certain aspects in which Conte needs to look into, as the quarter final match at Stamford Bridge was indeed a tough fixture, a sharp contrast to the 4-0 domination by the Blues over the Reds back in October. It was clear that Mourinho had done his homework and had a clear plan in mind- quite different to what he generally uses when he does not have his preferred players with him.
Mourinho replicated Conte’s 3-4-3; while some say that he went for a 5-4-1 formation with Rashford ( who did not look like he was ill ) up front.
The intention seemed very clear, with Jose commanding his players to press against Chelsea’s players right from the first minute. The moment any Chelsea player had his first touch on the ball, a United player charged towards him increasing the pressure on the player. Unlike his usual tactic where he prefers sitting back and defending when he does not have his striker playing, this was quite different to watch.Players like Mkhitaryan, Rashford and Pogba were quite active in charging towards the Chelsea players and trying to win the ball from them. The first ten minutes were tense for the Chelsea players and United seemed to have brought out one method to silence Chelsea’s method of play.
Conte’s accusation of not being able to play football holds true in many aspects. Hazard was repeatedly fouled in the first 20-25 minutes of the game, and players like Willian and Diego Costa found lie a bit difficult handling Smalling, Jones and Rojo in the final third of the pitch, who showed more physicality and rough gameplay. It was looking as if the traditional philosophy of “if you can’t take out the ball, bring the player down” was used in this game by United.
A moment of brilliance from Eden Hazard in the 25th minute changed the overall tempo of the game. A brilliant Cruyff turn to beat Smalling was a stunning highlight to watch. If de Gea wouldn’t have got a glove on the ball, it would have been 1-0 to Chelsea for sure.
The defensive mindset of United backfired as Smalling was informed by the referee at around the 34th minute, saying that the next player who fouls Hazard will receive a yellow card. Ander Herrera, who was on a booking, seemed to have ignored the referee’s warning and as a consequence of the foul he received his second yellow card and was sent off. That surely was the defining moment of the match.
The absence of Herrera helped Chelsea gain some momentum, as Jose immediately substituted Mkhitaryan with Fellaini, and the traditional Jose style of play began with immediate effect.
Chelsea dominated the second half entirely due to the fact that United were one player short. With Herrera sent off, the midfield seemed quite empty and had many open spaces, allowing players like Azpilicueta to charge into the final third and take shots on goal. The open spaces in midfield allowed all players to charge into the United half and attack with as many shots on target as possible, but Jose had his defence sorted with players perfectly marking the zones in which Chelsea players tend to move or take shots.
But N’Golo was the difference yet again. Taking advantage of the absent man( who would have marked him) he took a shot on goal which de Gea couldn’t save.
The Blues conceded a dangerous chance when a cleared ball from a United defender went beyond Azpilicueta leaving only two defenders behind. Rashford dribbled past Cahill but his shot was saved by Courtois.
United created three to four chances in the final five minutes, but Chelsea’s deep defending was too good for the United midfielders to penetrate into the penalty area.
Jose has brought out some key points which Pochettino will surely notice and implement in the semi final. Applying immediate pressure on the player when he has the ball, defend with zonal marking system and make sure that Chelsea players do not find spaces between the players. So we can expect a very fast game at Wembley.