MAN UTD 1, CHELSEA 3
A disappointing weekend for Mancunian football as United joined City in losing their semi-final of the Emirates FA Cup.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side was comprehensively beaten by Chelsea as its 19-match unbeaten run came to a juddering halt at Wembley.
And coming 24 hours after City’s loss to Arsenal, it left the weekend scoreline Manchester 0, London 2.
It was a below-par and error strewn United display as Solskjaer came under scrutiny for his team selection and tactics.
United’s recent successful run has been built on continuity and stability with hardly any changes.
Yet, the Norwegian made five changes from the side that won at Crystal Palace on Thursday.
Solskjaer also switched from his trusted 4-2-3-1 formation to a three-man back line and a 3-4-3 system.
Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Scott McTominay, Mason Greenwood and Timothy Fosu-Mensah lost their places from midweek.
And recalled to the side were Fred, Daniel James, Eric Bailly, Brandon Williams and Nemanja Matic with their play disjointed and lacking its usual cohesion as they had already beaten Chelsea three times this season.http://gty.im/1257070010
Solskaer admitted his side must pick itself up and not dwell on the defeat.
He said: “There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves, we have two games this week and then the Europa League.
“We will get our heads ready and our legs ready and go again.”
Solskjaer blamed the lengthy injury delay for the opening goal saying his side lost concentration.
He added: “Chelsea had an extra 48 hours, that’s just a fact but it’s no excuse, I can’t use excuses. It is what it is, we would rather have the semi to play than not. I won’t make a fuss out of that.
Of his goalkeeper, Solskjaer said: “I can’t speak for David de Gea’s confidence but he is mentally very strong. He knows he should save that one 100 times out of 100 but that’s football for you. I made the decison to play him and mentally he was ready for it.
“You know Olivier Giroud’s movement you know he goes to the near post and we should defend that better. We are a little too late in those situations and the second goal was very avoidable.”
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard was delighted with the victory which sees his side reach its ninth final this millennium. It will be the third Chelsea-Arsenal final.
He said: “I couldn’t have asked more, perhaps a few more goals and I was proud of the performance.
“It was a performance full of character and personality which you couldn’t say at Sheffield United.”
Chelsea made the brighter start as Reece James forced an early save from David De Gea and Marcos Alonso headed narrowly over.
Bruno Fernandes forced Willy Caballero to turn over his free kick, the Reds’ first clear-cut chance in the 32nd minute.
Mason Mount and Kurt Zouma also had decent openings for Chelsea.
United were forced to make a change late in the opening half after a sickening clash of heads involving team-mates Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire.
Bailly managed to walk off after lengthy treatment but on the touchline was worryingly put into a neck brace while Maguire, head bandaged, carried on.
Martial was brought on as United switch to a back four and a more conventional formation.
And it was in the 11th minute of stoppage time that Chelsea snatched the lead when Olivier Giroud converted a cross from Cesar Azpilicueta.
It was the Frenchman’s 12th goal of the season and sixth in his last seven starts with questions marks about De Gea who should have kept out the effort.
Worse was to follow for the under-fire Spaniard in the opening minute of the second period when his humongous error allowed Mount to double the lead with his first goal in 27 matches.
Williams gave away the ball as Mount burst forward and his drive from 25 yards ought to have been comfortably saved by De Gea only for it to slip through his grasp.
Marcus Rashford broke away on the left but dragged his shot wide, an effort which summed up the night for United.
Fred and James made way for Pogba and Greenwood 10 minutes after the restart in a bid to kickstart a desperately poor performance.
But Chelsea continued to dominate as Mount blazed over from six yards and Giroud forced a fine save from De Gea.
Maguire headed wide from a corner which Caballero missed, a great chance to halve the deficit midway through the half.
Chelsea sealed victory with 16 minutes left moments after De Gea foiled James.
Alonso fired over a low cross from the left and Maguire, under pressure from Rudiger, deflected the ball past De Gea who was again indecisive.
United managed to get on the scoresheet in the 85th minute when Martial was fouled in the box by Blues’ substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi and Fernandes scored from the spot, his ninth goal in 18 games for the Reds since his January move from Sporting Lisbon.
Remarkably, it was United’s 19th penalty of the season.
It was a rare moment of cheer as in stoppage time Hudson-Odoi should have added a fourth goal, blazing over from six yards.
United must quickly get over the disappointment as securing a top-four place and Champions League football next season remains the main goal for the league campaign which has two games to go.