Chesea manager Maurizio Sarri once again felt the familiar refrains for a beleaguered manager as Chelsea crashed out of the FA Cup. This was a fantastic away performance from Manchester United and another throwback of a display in which they defended resolutely and counter-attacked ruthlessly to emphatically earn their place in the last eight.
They were driven on by Paul Pogba with yet another goal and yet another assist and yet another dominant display. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over in December the reborn, rejuvenated midfielder has had a hand in 15 goals, scoring nine of them, in 12 games.
Against this Sarri was met with chants of “you don’t know what you are doing” and “sacked in the morning” and an even angrier one emanating from the Matthew Harding Stand of “f— Sarri-ball”. Not one for the purists.
These are intensely difficult times for the Italian as he heads towards Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, who whipped his team 6-0 little over a week ago. How much longer will he last? Every predictable substitution, every usual change Sarri made was met with open rebellion by the supporters. He is the first Chelsea manager for a long time to lose the fans like this and it appears unsustainable. It feels like the fag end, already, of the chain smoker’s tenure.
Off went Pedro and Mateo Kovacic. On came Willian and Ross Barkley, while the final change, which saw full-back Davide Zappacosta used while winger Callum Hudson-Odoi kicked his heels on the bench, tipped some fans over the edge. The boos at the end were long and full of anger and it was also telling that a large number stayed behind to express that anger.
At the same time Solskjaer gave his chances of earning a permanent contract another significant boost, bouncing back from the Champions League defeat by Paris St-Germain, in which Pogba was sent off, with an 11th win in 13 games.
Solskjaer became the first United manager since Sir Alex Ferguson, who was here, to win at Stamford Bridge. It was also the first time in five games in this competition that United had prevailed against Chelsea – including Solskjaer’s final game as a United player, the 2007 final – and that will be noted. As will the incredible, high-energy support he again received from his club’s travelling fans, who raised their chants and did not relent.
Given Solskjaer recalibrated his side – with a midfield diamond that placed Juan Mata at its tip to occupy Jorginho, and David Luiz when he stepped forward – and got his tactics right on the night, the PSG disappointment points towards the personnel being at fault rather than his approach. The dismal state of Chelsea, however, has to be factored in.
This was the last of the fifth-round ties and the heavyweight one. It felt like a lot was at stake for the clubs who clashed in last season’s final. The pace was fierce, although another indictment of Chelsea was that they did not get one shot on target in the second half. That owed much to United’s body-on-the-line defending that was shown by Luke Shaw hurting himself as he stretched every sinew to poke the ball away from Pedro when the winger threatened to run on to N’Golo Kante’s through ball at the beginning of the second period.
After that Victor Lindelof, who had been turned inside out by Eden Hazard, recovered to deflect the forward’s shot over the bar.
Such commitment will have given Solskjaer as much satisfaction as the goals. He turned to his bench in the final minute of injury time, as goalkeeper Sergio Romero collected one last corner, and winked. And why not? He had earned that moment.
The goals were superbly taken even if there was bad defending.
Still United moved the ball across the pitch, with Mata knitting the play, before Pogba shifted it to his right boot and swung in a cross that picked out the run of Ander Herrera. Chelsea had been slow to react; slow to track Mata, slow to close down Pogba and slow to respond as Herrera stooped to head past goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. Marcos Alonso – once more – appeared particularly guilty as he realised too late where Herrera was.
It was down the other flank that United claimed their second goal. Just before half-time Marcus Rashford and Pogba combined with the latter sending the former running towards the byline. Showing excellent awareness, the England international, who had such a great evening, waited until Paul Pogba had made up the yards to sprint into the area. The cross picked Pogba out and he dived in before Azpilicueta, his header heading into the net via Arrizabalaga who, probably, could have done better.
Chelsea had chances before the goal. After them, they had none. Gonzalo Higuain should have done better than steering a header wide, while Romero unconvincingly beat away a Luiz free-kick and just about repelled Pedro’s follow-up.
But that was it. Their only other gripe was their former midfielder Nemanja Matic was fortunate to escape a dismissal for a second yellow card as he tripped Kante.
Yes, Chelsea had the majority of possession, the majority of crosses, but this was an emphatically deserved victory for United and a familiar sense of the end approaching for another Chelsea manager.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta (Zappacosta, 82), Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic (Barkley, 71); Pedro (Willian, 58), Higuain, Hazard.
Subs not used: Caballero (gk), Giroud, Hudson-Odoi, Christensen.
Manchester United (4-1-2-1-2): Romero; Shaw, Lindelof, Smalling, Young; Matic; Pogba, Herrera; Mata (Pereira, 76); Lukaku (Sanchez, 73), Rashford (McTominay, 90+4).
Subs not used: De Gea (gk), Bailly, Fred, Dalot.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Written by Dennis.