Chelsea edge past Man United, but both sides have reason to be cheerful

Chelsea’s victory over Manchester United on Saturday saw them move within touching distance of claiming their first Premier League title since 2010.

Eden Hazard’s first half goal was enough to secure all three points for the Blues, and while the game was lacking the high levels of excitement we have been used to in recent meetings between the two, it still proved to be a fascinating encounter nonetheless with both sides able to come away from Stamford Bridge with plenty of positives.

United came into the match as one of the form sides in the Premier League thanks to six straight wins that included memorable victories over Liverpool and Manchester City. And while a trip to the league leaders will have seemed a daunting proposition not too long ago, the visitors were able to approach the match full of confidence and with great optimism.

Having moved up to third in the table and opened up an eight-point gap to Liverpool in the race for a Champions League spot, the pressure was off given the breathing space they have over those sides outside the top four. Finishing in the top four still remains the club’s primary aim and while victory would have been great, they ended the weekend in the same position they started it which made the defeat slightly easier to take.

And the manner of their performance will also have given them plenty to be pleased about despite the result. Even with a number of players missing through injury, a reshuffled side dominated the soon to be champions for long periods of the game and were unlucky not to come away with at least a point. They had a staggering 70% of possession which is unheard of when visiting Chelsea and led to claims from Louis van Gaal that it was his team’s best performance of the season.

The way they controlled the game and retained the ball was impressive, with the performance of Luke Shaw also catching the eye given his lack of football in recent weeks. He looked full of energy down United’s left side, and particularly in the second half looked one of their biggest threats.

But in truth, despite being on the back foot for the majority of the game, Chelsea never really looked in danger and their victory was as comfortable as you could get when restricted to just 30% of possession.

Jose Mourinho felt the match went exactly to plan and it was no surprise to see his side defend the lead so well. They restricted United to just a couple of chances with Radamel Falcao’s effort rebounding off the post the only real opportunity they could conjure.

It was another brilliant defensive display from a Chelsea side that kept United’s in form player’s quiet throughout limiting the effectiveness of Marouane Felliani, Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney. Kurt Zouma was terrific in the middle of the park, and Hazard’s goal once again highlighted his ability as a match winner.

Didier Drogba worked tirelessly upfront in the absence of Diego Costa and Loic Remy and with Thibaut Courtois rarely troubled in goal, it was certainly a job well done for the home side.

To end the Red Devils winning run was one thing, but the celebrations on full time showed they knew how important the victory was in terms of the league title, and with a 10 point lead over Arsenal with just six games remaining it’s all but done.

Chelsea know two wins in their next two games will guarantee them the league title, but with such a dominant lead they can even afford a few slip ups. With a trip to Arsenal next weekend, their latest performance could almost act as a dress rehearsal for their visit to the Emirates. A similar defensive performance means we could well be in store for another narrow win for Chelsea, something we have seen time and time again from Mourinho in the past, who may well be happy enough with a nil-nil.

As for United, the performance will give them plenty of confidence heading into their last five games and it should be just a matter of time before they secure a top-four finish. They still have a great chance of finishing in second place, which given their inconsistent start to the season would count as a great achievement, and the chance to finish ahead of their City rivals should spur them on to finish the season strongly.