Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera put on a midfield masterclass for Manchester United as the Red Devils notched up a 2-0 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Facing a crunch run of fixtures and on the back of a 2-0 loss to PSG, the match against Chelsea had perhaps become the defining moment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign this season. Manchester United put on an absolute masterclass in terms of absorbing pressure while using high pressing and counters to beat Chelsea and advance to the quarter-finals of the premier cup competition in England.
The game started in a high tempo, with United on the front foot, pressing very high. Chelsea slowly grew into the game but could have found themselves trailing, with Kepa Arrizabalaga almost caving in to the incessant pressing. The Blues did trail though, thanks to a swift counter from United.
Paul Pogba shifted the ball to his right before finding Ander Herrera’s run inside the box and the Spaniard finished with aplomb. Chelsea went back to dominating possession without actually creating chances. Gonzalo Higuain was the only one who came close to scoring.
But, as the clock drew closer to half-time, Pogba found Rashford out wide, who waited patiently for runners before putting in a dangerous cross that was met by Pogba’s head. The Frenchman’s header was too powerful for Kepa to deny, with his positioning, however, suspect.
The second half was mostly Chelsea, with Sergio Romero showing just why he is considered the best backup goalkeeper in the Premier League, if not the world. With the 2-0 defeat, Chelsea are out of the FA Cup while United have now beaten another top team en route to the Last 8 stage.
We take a look at how the individuals fared.
Sergio Romero: 8/10
Not many expected Romero to start a crunch tie like this. But, once he did, United did not seem to be missing David de Gea in goal. The Argentine was solid at the back and impressed early on in the first half with a double save. The second half was a continuous barrage and Romero kept his calm. Hallmark of a world-class gloveman.
Ashley Young: 6.5/10
One of the underachievers for Manchester United on Monday, Young got himself in the book early on, which forced Smalling to come out and create a 2v1 situation every time Hazard went up against the veteran. Did not do much wrong but the needless foul on Pedro that resulted in the yellow card could have been easily avoided.
Chris Smalling: 7.5/10
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to know just whom to partner with Lindelof for certain games. On Monday against Chelsea, Smalling was the man for the cause. Not only did he assist Young in their bid to keep Hazard and Marcos Alonso quiet on the left, but the Englishman was dominant at the back, sweeping away danger with ease.
Victor Lindelof: 7.5/10
Another solid outing for the Swede, who has genuinely booked his name as one of the regulars in the starting eleven under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Hardly put a foot wrong in the game and his passing range is a joy to behold. Still a lot to learn while defending against strikers like Gonzalo Higuain, who did trouble him a bit in the first half with his well-timed runs.
Luke Shaw: 7/10
Not being given his usual licence to dart forward, it was a tactical decision that paid massive dividends. Chelsea aimed to create an overcharge towards Luke Shaw, with Pedro and Cesar Azpilicueta and Shaw being defensive restricted them from finding any space behind the left-back at least. Made a crucial interception from Gonzalo Higuain in the first half. Continues to impress.
Nemanja Matic: 6.5/10
Another player who did go about his job but was a bit underwhelming was Matic. Up against his former side, he also picked up an early yellow card, which forced Ander Herrera and Pogba to be more defensive and help out the Serb on Monday night. But, Matic did not do much wrong. Decent.
Ander Herrera: 9/10
🎯 77.8% pass accuracy
🛡️ 5 interceptions
✋ 3 clearances
⚽ 1 goal
Ole Ole Ander Herrera! 🇪🇸👏 pic.twitter.com/kpiNgN8eWg
— Man United News (@ManUtdMEN) February 18, 2019
Many think Paul Pogba stole the show on Monday night. While we can tend to agree to an extent, in the grand scheme of things, Ander Herrera’s presence in the starting eleven is what made the difference. The Spaniard truly is ball of energy and with Solskjaer providing more freedom to Herrera and Pogba, it has brought back the midfielder of old in Herrera.
The Spaniard was renowned as a goalscoring midfielder during his time at Athletic Bilbao and seems to be loving a renaissance of a similar role under Solskjaer. Played his heart out against Chelsea. A true red.
Paul Pogba: 8.5/10
The Beast Unleashed? That seems to be exactly the case for Paul Pogba under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Given the freedom to venture forward at every opportunity, the Frenchman has been tearing it up for Manchester United. On Monday, Pogba set up the first goal and in a way set up his own goal – the second – as well, distributing the ball calmly to Rashford out wide.
A real gem of a midfielder, who genuinely looks like one of the best players in the world right now.
Juan Mata: 6.5/10
Did not get much to do, the Spaniard. But, the tactics were spot on from Solskjaer, who meant to use Mata in a Lingard-esque role on Monday night. Mata though, could not be as dominant in picking out the pieces that resulted from Rashford and Romelu Lukaku’s pressing, which saw the pressure shift to the United goal instead.
Not his fault. Just a role he found hard to justify.
Romelu Lukaku: 6.5/10
Seldom has Lukaku been afforded starts by Solskjaer, let alone in a game against a top side. So, Monday was the perfect opportunity to show the Belgian still has what it takes to be United’s frontman. Almost delivered the perfect cross for Rashford to convert, if not for David Luiz’s interception in the box.
Took an early volley well but the shot was over the bar. A decent overall display but the sharpness still seems to be somewhat missing from his game. Maybe, it’s just a matter of confidence.
Marcus Rashford: 8/10
This run by Rashford is insane. Bye bye Kante and Dave. pic.twitter.com/wSyjiOcCau
— D (@danialghul) February 19, 2019
Talking about confidence, Rashford might have the self-belief that he is the best player on the pitch every time he plays. The academy graduate was a constant thorn for Chelsea with his runs and pressing. Delightful ball to assist Pogba. But, apart from the assist, his runs are becoming a thing of beauty and a trademark of sorts.
Earlier, he tried to make it all about his pace. But, now he has learnt to add different techniques in his runs to confuse defenders. Rashford seems to have added multiple layers to his game in the past 3 months or so, which seems to have elevated him to genuinely being one of the brightest players in the Premier League right now.
Alexis Sanchez: 6.5/10
The Chilean worked his socks off after coming on for Romelu Lukaku near the 75 minute mark. While he did not do much of note apart from a good moment on the left, his work rate was a massive plus as United looked to guide the game home safe. Positive signs.
Andreas Pereira: N/A
Pereira came on and hardly did anything of note. But, a fresh pair of legs saw United being able to keep the ball in the other half.
Scott McTominay: N/A
Would have loved to get some senior minutes under his belt after good performances for the Under-23 side.