In what was an action-packed battle at Old Trafford on Thursday night, Manchester United officially punched their Champions League return as they claimed a thumping 4-1 victory against Chelsea.
Knowing that a single point would have been enough in their bid to claim a crucial top-four finish, Erik ten Hag’s side certainly made a major statement here as they breezed past a Chelsea squad who are in the midst of a Premier League crisis.
With midfield talisman Casemiro opening the scoring with a smart flicked header after just six minutes, United didn’t look back as the trio of Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford all got themselves in on the act on either side of the half-time break.
Enjoying what was a party atmosphere around Old Trafford during large spells of the second-half, ten Hag’s men couldn’t have wished for a better occasion to punch their Champions League ticket.
Although Joao Felix might have eventually bagged nothing more than a consolation strike for Chelsea in the final minutes, the Blues have now claimed just a single win from any of their last 13 straight appearances across all competitions.
Two Premier League heavyweights who have endured completely opposite fortunes this season, what did we learn from Thursday’s battle at Old Trafford?
Ten Hag is United’s best manager since Sir Alex
While Manchester United might have opened ten Hag’s reign with back-to-back Premier League defeats, the former Ajax boss has rightfully received a string of plaudits this year.
Although Thursday’s hosts might have suffered a stunning Europa League exit at the hands of Sevilla last month, United did end their six-year wait to lift a piece of silverware.
Clinching a 2-0 victory against fellow top-four outfit Newcastle at Wembley back in February as they were crowned EFL Cup champions, fans around Old Trafford should find the mood in their camp at a real high.
With ten Hag making it clear that a Champions League return was at the top of his agenda this season, the Premier League giants couldn’t have wished for a better way to finish off their top-four charge here.
Breezing past their historic rivals and making another statement in the red half of Manchester, the Dutch tactician will now have his full attention focused on a mouth-watering FA Cup final showdown on June 3rd.
Returning to Wembley when they meet noisy neighbours Manchester City in a bid to dethrone Pep Guardiola’s treble dreams, ten Hag deserves plenty of praise for what he has done at Old Trafford this season.
Cementing his spot as United’s greatest manager in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, the Reds will certainly look back on the 2022/23 campaign as a positive.
Casemiro is one of the Premier League’s signings of the season
While Rashford might have come off the bench on Thursday night and notched his 30th strike of the season, it has been another Manchester United superstar who has stolen plenty of the headlines at Old Trafford.
Although some might have been shocked to see ten Hag fork out £70million for Casemiro last summer, the former Real Madrid icon has certainly cemented his spot as one of the Premier League’s signings of the season.
Handing the Red Devils some real midfield steel, the Brazilian international has undoubtedly been the lynchpin of United’s success on either side of the World Cup’s winter break.
Arguably the first name on ten Hag’s team sheet and opening the scoring on Thursday night with a smart flicked header, Casemiro has cemented his spot as a huge fan favourite around Old Trafford.
Quickly gaining a reputation for his rugged approach in front of ten Hag’s defence, the 31-year-old has also proven pivotal in United’s top-four return this season.
Offering a huge amount of experience after winning the Champions League on five separate occasions during his tenure in Madrid, Casemiro has proven he was worth every penny that United spent last summer.
Pochettino faces a huge challenge at Stamford Bridge
While Chelsea might have broken a string of financial records over the past two transfer windows as they spent over £600million, the former Premier League champions have endured nothing short of a nightmare campaign at Stamford Bridge.
Failing to find any kind of stability since they welcomed Lampard back to west London to replace Graham Potter last month, the Blues have come under a huge amount of scrutiny on either side of the World Cup’s winter break.
Although Chelsea might be close to officially announcing Mauricio Pochettino’s Premier League return, the former Tottenham boss will know that he has an almighty job on his hands in SW6.
Putting in another woeful display on Thursday night as they slumped to that infamous 4-1 drumming, they have now recorded just a single win from any of their last 13 straight appearances across all competitions.
In desperate need of what is a complete squad overhaul over the summer, the Blues are also preparing for a campaign away from all European tournaments.
Enduring what has been their worst season in recent memory, Chelsea also face another huge challenge when they sign off the 2022/23 campaign this weekend.
Already settling for a notorious bottom-half finish, Lampard’s downbeat squad will face a real backlash at Stamford Bridge when they welcome Newcastle to west London on Sunday afternoon.
Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Lindelof, Shaw, Casemiro, Eriksen, Antony, Fernandes, Sancho, Martial
Subs: Rashford, Fred, Garnacho, Malacia, McTominay
Chelsea: Kepa, Azpilicueta, W. Fofana, Chalobah, Hall, Fernandez, Gallagher, Chukwuemeka, Madueke, Havertz, Mudryk
Subs: Felix, Pulisic, Ziyech, Loftus-Cheek, D. Fofana
Goals: Manchester United: Casemiro (6’), Martial (45+3’), Fernandes (73’ P), Rashford (78’) – Chelsea: Felix (89’)
Yellow Cards: Manchester United: Malacia – Chelsea: Fernandez
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Stuart Attwell