Manchester United completed its season sweep of Chelsea with a 2-0 win in London on Monday, the Red Devils’ third victory over the Blues this season after routing them on the opening day of the Premier League campaign and in October in the League Cup.
Unlike those the first two convincing victories, though, this one would’t have happened without two game-altering decisions by the video assistant referee.
VAR’s shambolic rollout in the Prem continues to usurp the action on the field, and that was the case once again in the marquee contest of Matchday 26 — not that United will care.
Chelsea was the more dangerous team in the the first half, but the visitors took the lead at Stamford Bridge when wingback Aaron Wan-Bissaka worked his way past Blues winger Willian and swung in a cross that Martial steered into the corner of the goal past Blues backstop Willy Caballero, who once again spelled $90 million Kepa Arrizabalaga in Frank Lampard’s lineup:
Martial’s perfect header stood up as the game-winner, although whether it should’ve been is absolutely up for debate. Here are three quick thoughts on yet another match marred by VAR.
Should Harry Maguire have seen red?
Chelsea could’ve been up a goal had Michy Batshuayi — making his first league start of the season —been able to convert a golden set-up by Mason Mount in the 25th minute. But Batshuayi might have found more space as the match wore on had United’s top center back, Harry Maguire, been sent off for kicking out at the Belgian striker after a challenge near the touchline.
VAR determined that Maguire’s actions didn’t rise to the level of “violent conduct” and thus a red card, even though Tottenham’s Son Heung-min was sent off following review after a seemingly identical incident earlier in the season.
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But Maguire stayed on, telling Sky Sports afterward that “it was a natural reaction” because he thought Batshuayi “was going to fall on me.”
And the England veteran added insult to injury when he scored the visitors’ insurance goal, after Chelsea had its apparent equalizer ruled out by VAR in the second half. (It was determined that Cesar Azpilicueta pushed down Brandon Williams before Kurt Zouma’s header, although Azpilicueta was in turned pushed by United’s Fred.)
It was Maguire’s first goal for the Red Devils, it gave the club its first league double over Chelsea since 1987-88.
The Blues would have another goal called back 10 minutes later, when second-half substitute Olivier Giroud was adjudged to be offside. United’s players hadn’t appealed for a flag, but unlike the other two decisions this one was inarguable: Giroud was clearly offside upon review.
Batshuayi misses a big chance, in more ways than one
Chelsea was without a gaggle of regular starters, including Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham. Matters went from bad to worse in the 11th minute, when N’Golo Kante limped off and was replaced by Mount.
In Abraham’s place up top was Batshuayi, with a golden chance to stake a claim for more playing time. But the Belgian striker squandered an opportunity deep into first-half stoppage time that would’ve almost immediately canceled out Martial’s strike. Pedro found Batshuayi in the box this time but the outcome was the same, with the forward again firing wide with a feeble effort. It was one of an astounding 16 shots that Chelsea sent off-target on the night.
Man United now has the Champions League places in sight
However Thursday’s big win went down, it pulled the Blues within two points of fifth-place Tottenham (and three shy of Chelsea in fourth.) A fifth-place finish might be enough to get United back to the Champions League for the first time in two years next season; second-place Manchester City won’t participate unless its appeal overturns the Champions League ban UEFA imposed last week.
Chelsea, meantime, won’t have long to lick its wounds as a murderers’ row of foes continues. The Blues face Spurs on Saturday, begin a home-and-home with Bayern Munich in the Champions League round of 16 next week, and play Premier League champion-in-waiting Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round on March 3.
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