“Antonio, Antonio,” rang around Stamford Bridge as Chelsea inflicted another defeat on a grim-faced Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United.
A towering header from Alvaro Morata, the striker Mourinho overlooked to sign Romelu Lukaku instead, was enough with Chelsea arresting their own simmering crisis. Lukaku was desperately disappointing.
For Mourinho it is now 10 games, no wins, one goal in away games against the other ‘top six’ clubs, as first Chelsea and United manager, and there can be no disputing the result.
The true winners were Manchester City, of course, who saw their lead at the top of the table extended to eight points, in effect nine when their commanding goal difference, is factored in.
For Antonio Conte, the Chelsea manager, this was a rallying point of a result going into the international break and following the chaotic Champions League defeat away to Roma in midweek.
United, meanwhile, were caught between two stools – they had to come out and play and try to win but were undone defensively. Mourinho has been stung by criticism of his conservative in recent big games but this result will sting even more.
There was intent from both teams; no-one could accuse them of not going for the victory with chances flowing at both ends. It was thunderous, at times, a bit too bone-jarringly frantic also.
In fact the ball was in the United net inside seven minutes, volleyed there inadvertently by Phil Jones, but it was disallowed by referee Anthony Taylor who deemed Morata had pushed the defender as he tried to intercept Marcos Alonso’s cross. “Clear foul,” Taylor was seen mouthing but it did not appear that obvious.
Then United should have gone in front when Marcus Rashford, who had drifted free inside the six-yard area, met Ashley Young’s in-swinging cross but managed to cushion his header onto the roof of the net. Surely he had to do better with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois stranded.
Chelsea broke again with Morata fending off Chris Smalling as they both tried to reach another cross, this time from Davide Zappacosta, with the ball running to Tiemoue Bakayoko who side-footed wastefully wide.
At the other end and Lukaku turned sharply on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area and attempted to bend his shot around Courtois, who pushed the ball out with David De Gea then excelling himself to repel Eden Hazard’s fierce drive with Cesc Fabregas unfortunate to head the rebound into the side-netting. Before half-time and there was one more clear chance when Andreas Christensen met a corner but headed over the bar, or rather shouldered it over, leading to an inquest between Lukaku and Smalling.
Conte had made changes. David Luiz was dropped, as was Antonio Rudiger, while the return of N’Golo Kante, after six games out with a hamstring injury, made a significant difference to the Chelsea midfield which appeared re-energised.
They continued to push and, surely, Hazard had to score when he met a superb Fabregas cross – only for him to sweep a first-time shot straight at De Gea. The goal was coming and Morata duly collected it, meeting Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross, after Henrikh Mkhitaryan had lost possession, to steer his header back across De Gea. The stadium eruped and Chelsea, deservedly, were ahead – but where was the United marking?
Mourinho had seen enough. A double change was made with Marouane Fellaini and Anthony Martial coming on and Mkhitaryan and Jones and a change of shape also, reverting to a back four. Conte countered by bringing on Rudiger to combat the threat of Martial.
Fellaini struggled. He cautioned, catching Morata with his arm, then dispossessed by Bakayoko who ran on and shot when he could have played the ball to Morata who was then also overlooked by Hazard who at least drew a save from De Gea.