BY PAUL LAGAN
Chelsea dropped out of the top four of the Premier League after their 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford this afternoon, despite going 1-0 up.
With Spurs taking all three points with a later winner at Crystal Palace earlier, the Blues needed to come away from Manchester with all three points and it looked as if that was going to happen when Willian blasted then Londoners into them lead.
But United are resilient and a bit of lick went their way for former Blue Romelu Lukaku to strike back. Substitute Jesse Lingard’s powerful, if unchallenged header put united into the lead, from which they never seriously looked like relinquishing.
Chelsea started brightly, getting a corner in the first minute. Retaining possession well. Alvaro Morata smashed the United crossbar three minutes in after a sensational interchange play by the Londoners.
After that scare, United gradually kept possession of the ball and settled in to the game.
After a passage of plat where both side made errors the ball finally fell to Romelu Lukaku but his turn and shot on 30 minutes was blocked by Antonio Rudiger and the ball dropped to Thibaut Courtois. seconds later and an up to now anonymous Alexis Sanchez almost score but his weak toe-poke from eight yards out drifted casually into Courtois’s grasp.
N’Golo Kante was yellow-carded for a foul on marauding Paul Pogba. Within 30 seconds the Blues took the lead in clinical fashion. Victor Moises headed the ball out of his own penalty area to Willian. It was passed to Eden Hazard and the break was on. Within 10 seconds Hazard had returned the ball to Willian on the right and he arrowed towards the United goal. Five seconds later, and after a right-footed blaster, the ball ripped the back of David De Gea’s goal.
The lead lasted five minutes Lukaku slotted home from close range after good interchange play by Sanchez and Anthony Martial.
The Blues should have restored their lead following another quick break but Hazard, instead of taking advantage of his position in the United six-yard box, played the ball back to Marcos Alonso. His scuffed shot clipped over De Gea’s crossbar.
There were no changes by either side at half-time.
However it was United who started to dominate, with the front two of Morata and Hazard for the Blues looking increasingly out of sorts.
A flashing goal-bound shot by Danny Drinkwater was parred away to safety bu De Gea. This was followed up three minutes later on 60 minutes by a Willian shot which went high and wide over the home side’s crossbar.
With United in the ascendency, Lukaku was unlucky with a spectacular volley on 68 minutes. Courtois was on hand to tip the ball over his crossbar for a corner.
A whipping left-wing, in-swinging free kick by Willian almost deceived De Gea on 70 minutes and the Spain stopper needed a second bite of the cherry to get that ball fully under his control.
Antonio Conte’s first substitution saw Hazard replaced by Pedro on 73 minutes.
But it made no difference as, just as Conte was about to bring on Olivier Giroud, Lukaku clipped in the perfect cross and U tied sub Jesse Lingard got in front of Christensen and powered home a fierce header, from eight yards out.
Willian had a chance to equalise a minute later on 78 minutes, but his low drive was grasped by De Gea at his near post.
Conte then replaced Moses for Giroud. Whether that was his original intention when it was 1-1 and not 2-1 is debatable.
As Jose Mourinho brought on defender Eric Bailly for Sanchez, Conte replaced Drinkwater within creative midfielder Cesc Fabregas.
Morata had the ball in the back of the net with five minutes left, but his low left-footer was adjudged to be offside.
Chelsea: Courtois, Rudiger, Alonso, Drinkwater, Kante, Morata, Hazard, Moses, Willian, Christensen, Azpilicueta
Subs: Caballero, Fabregas, Pedro, Giroud, Zappacosta, Cahill, Emerson
Man United: De Gea, Lindelof, Pogba, Sanchez, Lukaku, Martial, Smalling, Young, Valencia, Matic, McTominay
Subs, Bailly, Mata, Lingard, Carrick, Rashford, Shaw, Pereira