LONDON, April 17: Herrera shadowed Hazard in a tactical plan by United manager Jose Mourinho that limited the effectiveness of Chelsea’s main attacking threat. On a rare occasion he left Hazard’s side, Herrera popped up in Chelsea’s area in the 49th minute to smash a deflected shot high into the net from 18 meters.
Chelsea, which held a 13-point lead after beating Stoke 2-1 on March 18, has lost two of its last four games.
“The league is open and we have a 50 per cent (chance) to win the league,” said Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, who blamed himself for the loss to United.
“They showed more desire, more ambition, more motivation. It is very simple but in this case the fault is of the coach. It means the coach was not able to transfer the right concentration, desire, ambition to win this game.”
The result didn’t just blow open the title race, it also left the battle for Champions League qualification intriguingly poised. United moved up to fifth place, four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with a game in hand, and is six points behind third-placed Liverpool having played two fewer games.
“With Liverpool and Manchester City victories, if we don’t win then goodbye Premier League,” Mourinho said. “These three points were phenomenal.”
United had conceded five goals and failed to score in its two losses to Chelsea this season, one in the league (4-0) and one in the FA Cup (1-0), but Mourinho got his own back against his former club this time.
As good a tactical masterclass as it was from Mourinho, there was a touch of fortune about both goals.
In the build-up to Rashford’s goal, Herrera blocked with his hand a pass from Nemanja Matic but the infringement wasn’t picked up. The United midfield anchorman ran forward and split the defense with his through-ball to Rashford, who got in behind David Luiz and bobbled a finish past Asmir Begovic, starting in place of the injured Thibaut Courtois.
Fans in the Stretford End chanted Herrera’s name as he frustrated Hazard time and again in the first half. They did so again after he made it 2-0 with a shot that clipped off the heel of Kurt Zouma and span beyond an unsighted Begovic, helping United end its 12-match winless run against Chelsea dating back to 2012.
United’s unbeaten run in the league extended to 22 games.
Chelsea produced possibly its sloppiest display of the past seven months, with the leaders not helped by left wing-back Marcos Alonso pulling out of the match during the warm-up as he struggled with the effects of a virus. He was replaced by a center back, Kurt Zouma, and that unbalanced the team.
Chelsea is still the favourite for the title, with the only obvious stumbling block in its run-in being a trip to Everton on April 30. Its last four games are against Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion, Watford and Sunderland.
Tottenham doesn’t look like letting up, though, after winning its last seven games and scoring 22 goals in the process.
“The pressure is normal and we are lucky to have the pressure,” Conte said. “Last season, Chelsea had no pressure in 10th place and you play calm, you are happy … we are doing a great job and a miracle if you consider last season and the problems we had.”AP