Manchester United confirmed a place in next season’s Champions League with a home win against Chelsea on Thursday. The Red Devils needed just a draw to clinch a top-four Premier League place, but instead ended up with all three points. Goals from Casemiro, Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes, and Marcus Rashford helped give the hosts the win.
The Red Devils came into the match with a three-point advantage over Liverpool in the standings. Along with the Chelsea fixture, United also has another home game against Fulham at the weekend. This means that the club needed just one point in either of these fixtures to lock up a top-four spot.
Early Casemiro goal sets tone
Chelsea began the game with its youngest-ever starting XI in the club’s Premier League history. The home side looked to take advantage of the inexperience with an early goal. Casemiro put United ahead in the sixth minute with a strong header. The dynamic midfielder jumped high to reach the pass from Christian Eriksen from a free kick. There was a VAR check for a possible offside after the goal, but the goal was eventually confirmed.
The good mood around Old Trafford hit a lull midway through the first half when Antony went down with an injury. Trevoh Chalobah won the ball after successfully tackling the Brazilian in the 26th minute. However, while the tackle wasn’t malicious, Antony couldn’t continue and was stretchered off. Rashford entered the fray for the injured winger.
Anthony Martial doubled United’s lead deep into added time after officials added six minutes because of the injury. Jadon Sancho was played free on goal with a clever pass by Casemiro. The winger then squared a pass of his own to Martial in behind the Chelsea defense. Martial tapped the ball into the back of the net with ease.
While United entered the halftime break with the lead, the visitors certainly had their chances. Carney Chukwuemeka, Mykhailo Mudryk, Kai Havertz, and Conor Gallagher all had quality opportunities to score for Chelsea. Mudryk’s chance in the fourth minute was certainly the biggest of the four. The Ukraine international somehow failed to make contact with the ball just a few yards away from the goal.
Fernandes, Rashford push United into Champions League
After a series of squandered scoring opportunities by both sides early in the second half, the hosts were awarded a penalty in the 72nd minute. Bruno Fernandes cleverly beat Wesley Fofana before being brought down by the French defender inside the box. Match referee Stuart Attwell pointed to the spot right away.
Fernandes held on to the ball, stepped up, and cooly put a shot passed Kepa Arrizabalaga. The goal was the Portugal international’s seventh top-flight strike this season and the 23rd from the spot in his United career.
First-half substitute Rashford added a fourth goal on the night after a gift by the Chelsea defense. Fofana once again was at fault for the visitors. The Frenchman sent a stray pass through his team’s box and straight to Rashford. Although Kepa made the initial save, the England international pounced on the rebound to score the easy goal.
Joao Felix would pick up a late consolation goal for the Blues in the 89th minute. The Portugal international collected the ball and raced towards David De Gea in goal. Instead of opting for power, Felix put a perfectly-placed shot into the bottom corner of the net.
The 4-1 victory brings United back to the Champions League after one year in the Europa League. Liverpool, on the other hand, will now have to play in the second-tiered European competition next season. The result against Fulham at the weekend will determine whether the Red Devils finish third or fourth in the table.
PHOTO: IMAGO /Propaganda Photo