Current table-toppers Chelsea may not be invincible this season, but Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester United was the first time we’ve seen the Blues well and truly dominated in 2016-17.
Many were surprised – and sceptical – by the side Jose Mourinho fielded against his former club, but the performance from his chosen XI showed they have all the qualities to be Premier League champions next term. That’s because…
They don’t need Zlatan to win big games
There’s little doubt that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been the Red Devils top performer this season. 28 goals and 10 assists in 45 games is a superb return, but it’s led many to assume that United can’t perform without the Swede. And it’s simply not so.
Indeed, Ibra started Sunday’s game on the bench, and only featured for the last seven minutes of the contest. By then, the damage had already been done by the electric pace and fine finishing of Marcus Rashford, and a goal-and-assist double from the irrepressible Ander Herrera.
Of the eight games where the former Paris Saint-Germain ace hasn’t featured at all, United have still managed five wins, drawing two and losing a solitary game – scoring 18 goals in the process. Not too shabby.
United’s backline are improving week on week
You have to go back to February to find the last time Mourinho’s men conceded more than once in a game. In fact, the Red Devils’ last 10 outings have seen them ship just six goals, on a run which has seen them face Chelsea (twice) and Everton, as well as tough trips to Belgium and Russia.
Perhaps most crucially of all, the understanding and confidence has been there whatever the defensive set-up and personnel chosen by Jose. The North-West giants have operated with both three at the back (v. Chelsea), a back-four (regularly), and even switched Matteo Darmian from one flank to another.
As for their clash with the Blues, it was the first time Chelsea had failed to muster a shot on target in a Prem game since September 2007. Yes, United were that dominant in defence on Sunday afternoon.
0 – Chelsea failed to have a single shot on target in a PL game for the first time since Sept 2007 (v Man Utd at Old Trafford). Repeat.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 16, 2017
The only consistent factor seems to be success. And with the vast majority of United’s defensive options still under 30-years-old, the future is very bright indeed.
They can win the tough games
If the Old Trafford outfit were sitting in fifth place and struggling to take points off the league’s top sides, we wouldn’t be making this argument. But they are doing so – and consistently, too.
As well as defeating Chelsea, Mourinho’s side are one of only three Premier League sides to beat Tottenham this season (1-0 at Old Trafford). They’ve also beaten Manchester City – en route to winning the EFL Cup – as well as taking points from Anfield and Goodison Park.
United’s main issue during this campaign has been breaking down well-organised sides who head to Old Trafford with one thing on their mind – defending solidly and grabbing a hard-fought draw.
Hopefully for Red Devils’ fans, the attacking intensity they showed against Chelsea right from kick-off is something they can match against the likes of Burnley and Swansea City in the coming weeks.
Do that consistently, and there’s little chance they’ll be right up there in next season’s title race.
Meanwhile, there’s 3/1 on offer for Jose and co. to finish the season in the top four. If they continue in this vein, that could turn out to be an inspired bet.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing