Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United miss out on famous win at Chelsea but can be enthused by second half surge

Do Manchester United need to go behind in order to play with the verve, intensity and – ultimately – success? “No,” was Jose Mourinho’s simple answer to that very question before travelling south for this return to Stamford Bridge.

And yet, for their second consecutive Premier League outing, here was evidence that this team can fight its way out of a corner. Indeed, the corner may be a prerequisite for them showing any fight at all.

United may have been refused a famous three points by Ross Barkley’s late intervention in the final minutes of stoppage time, and Mourinho may have been incensed by the manner of Chelsea’s celebrations, but part of him will leave Stamford Bridge satisfied with another second-half comeback. Especially, that is, given how United started. 


Chelsea v Manchester United player ratings





1/22 Kepa – 6

2/22 Cesar Azpilicueta – 6

3/22 David Luiz – 6

4/22 Antonio Rudiger – 7

5/22 Marcos Alonso – 5

6/22 Jorginho – 6

7/22 N’Golo Kanté – 6

8/22 Mateo Kovacic – 6

9/22 Eden Hazard – 6

10/22 Willian – 6

11/22 Alvaro Morata – 5

12/22 David De Gea – 6

13/22 Ashley Young – 8

14/22 Chris Smalling – 6

15/22 Victor Lindelof – 6

16/22 Luke Shaw – 7

17/22 Paul Pogba – 6

18/22 Nemanja Matic – 5

19/22 Juan Mata – 6

20/22 Romelu Lukaku – 5

21/22 Anthony Martial – 8

22/22 Marcus Rashford – 7

1/22 Kepa – 6

2/22 Cesar Azpilicueta – 6

3/22 David Luiz – 6

4/22 Antonio Rudiger – 7

5/22 Marcos Alonso – 5

6/22 Jorginho – 6

7/22 N’Golo Kanté – 6

8/22 Mateo Kovacic – 6

9/22 Eden Hazard – 6

10/22 Willian – 6

11/22 Alvaro Morata – 5

12/22 David De Gea – 6

13/22 Ashley Young – 8

14/22 Chris Smalling – 6

15/22 Victor Lindelof – 6

16/22 Luke Shaw – 7

17/22 Paul Pogba – 6

18/22 Nemanja Matic – 5

19/22 Juan Mata – 6

20/22 Romelu Lukaku – 5

21/22 Anthony Martial – 8

22/22 Marcus Rashford – 7

For the opening 45 minutes, and particularly after Antonio Rudiger’s header established a Chelsea lead, United were as static as they were in the first half against Newcastle United, before the remarkable turnaround that brought Mourinho back from the brink.

Rudiger’s header was the 15th Premier League goal United have conceded already this season. It means Mourinho’s side has the top flight’s fourth-worst defensive record after nine games. The three sides to have shipped more – Fulham, Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City – occupy three of the bottom four places.

Relegation form? Not quite, but not far off either, and not far off the 17 goals Mourinho’s Chelsea had conceded after nine games of ‘the Mourinho season’ – the calamitous title defence of the 2015-16 campaign. This corner of west London had seen this before.

Behind and already seeming beaten, United were like a clapped-out Mini Metro: the ignition failing, the engine sputtering, altogether offering little hope of moving anywhere. Then, someone fetched the jump cables. 

That that someone was Anthony Martial, a player alienated and criticised but now seemingly crucial to this side, is meaningful. Martial has now played an integral part in both the remontada on Rafael Benitez – scoring United’s equaliser that night – and this second-half sucker punch on Maurizio Sarri, whose side had previously looked certain of victory.

Martial’s touch to take Ashley Young’s cross, fired into the penalty area at pace, was sublime and the finish emphatic. For the similar second, his touch was a little off, but the finish magnificent, arced around Kepa Arrizabalaga with confidence.

That confidence is key. Too often under Mourinho, Martial has seemed a shell of his potential self, unable to see how he is supposed to succeed under a manager that is critical of him. As he came off as a late substitute, Mourinho embraced him, shared a joke which, from Martial, provoked a rare smile.

This raises a question: is Mourinho’s tough love working? Is it even working too well? Has, perhaps, this team become reliant on struggle, on overcoming hard times, to the extent that a slow start is necessary or sometimes even preferable?

Mourinho is probably too disappointed with the loss of two points late on to consider that. He will just be happy that there are signs of life, even if they only seem to come after his players receive a shock to the system.

If the United manager is to be believed and there is indeed a “man-hunt” being conducted against him, he remains out on the run, escaping the clutches of his would-be captors for another week, thanks to another second-half revival.

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