Manchester United versus Chelsea used to be a box office, must-watch game back in the day. There was always a certain “big fight” feeling about this fixture. However, these days the two clubs are in a completely different state. Chelsea, the reigning Champions League holders, are paying a visit to United, who are scraping for a chance at European football.
Fresh off their defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal, United came into the game as underdogs. Chelsea, on the other hand, had a quite mixed bag in terms of result. Despite the Champions League exit and loss to Arsenal, they still managed to progress into the FA Cup final by beating Crystal Palace. They also snatched a last-gasp win versus West Ham.
As the match went on, the team in form totally dominated proceedings and deservedly went ahead through a sublime finish by Marcos Alonso. Surprisingly, United managed to get back on level pegging thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo‘s wonderful goal provided by a roll-back-the-days assist from Nemanja Matic. Here are the three things we learned from the game
Something is not right with Marcus Rashford
With a total of 36 goal contributions, the 2020/21 season was seen as the finest one yet in Marcus Rashford‘s at United. That feat was more impressive considering he was carrying injuries for large parts of the campaign. After undergoing surgery in pre-season, finally free from injuries, Rashford was expected to kick on and take his game to another level. However, it has been quite an underwhelming season for the Englishman.
From 32 games played in all competition, he only managed to score 5 goals and chipped in with 2 assists. In football, it’s common for players to have a dip in form and see their numbers of production go down. But what has happened to Rashford this season is way beyond statistics.
In the game against Chelsea, he played like a shadow of his former self. The touches were loose and when he got the chance to run at the opponent, the possession usually came to nothing. In defence, there was also a clear lack of urgency in tracking back. This allowed Reece James to have freedom on the right hand side. As shown in this game and many prior games this season, Rashford seems to be losing confidence.
The talent is clearly there and it will be interesting to see whether Erik Ten Hag can get the best out of him. Most importantly, it is up to Rashford himself to prove that he can get back on track next season.Embed from Getty Images
United need new fullbacks this summer
As it has been the case during the games against Liverpool and Arsenal, it was United’s left side that got targeted all night long. Almost every Chelsea attack was built on Alex Telles‘ side. He was caught off position many times and Chelsea easily could have scored 3 or 4 goals had they been more clinical in front of goal.
Meanwhile, Diogo Dalot was also having a rough night trying to defend Marcos Alonso. It was evident as the Spaniard managed to score Chelsea’s goal. To be fair to Telles and Dalot, they both improved in the second half, especially in clearing the ball and getting it out of tight areas.
With Luke Shaw‘s absence to injury and Aaron Wan-Bissaka‘s rumoured departure, Brandon Willliams and Ethan Laird might get a chance to impress once they return from loan. But looking at the elite fullbacks currently playing for United’s rivals, the fullback situation might need to be addressed in the transfer market.Embed from Getty Images
The passing of the torch
It has been a really difficult season for United and for their fans worldwide. During times like this, everything comes into perspective and makes us appreciate the little things. Despite not winning the game, it is worth noting that Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal was again assiste by Nemanja Matic – meaning that the last 2 league goals scored by United were created by two players with a combined age of 70.
During the season, the United dressing room has been accused of lacking leadership so it’s nice to see two of the veteran players in the squad stepping up when it matters most and setting an example for the younger players. Speaking of young players, this match will forever be remembered as the debut of one Alejandro Garnacho, the next in line from United’s talented pool of academy players. Garnacho may not have enough minutes to show his skills, but his maiden appearance symbolises a new era, with many experienced players set to leave while the club look to rebuild with youth.Embed from Getty Images