The final game of the new Premier League Season’s opening weekend was also its biggest, and Sunday’s marquee meeting between English titans Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of drama.
The Londoners, who started the game with American Christian Pulisic surprisingly on the bench, came out flying. But United walked away 4-0 winners — Chelsea’s biggest opening day defeat in the Premier League era — thanks to two goals from Marcus Rashford and one each from Anthony Martial and debutant Daniel James.
Here are three quick thoughts on the match.
A statement win by Man United
Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham almost gave Chelsea an early lead when he rattled the post with a piledriver from just outside the area, and despite escaping punishment from a defensive gaffe the Blues were the better team over the first quarter of an hour.
Yet it was Rashford who broke the deadlock after just 18 minutes when, after being chopped down by Blues defender Kurt Zouma, he stepped up the penalty spot to give the Red Devils a lead they wouldn’t relinquish:
The goal seemed to settle Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, and although Chelsea hit another post (this time it was Emerson) late in the first half, the hosts looked comfortable up 1-0 at the break.
And during a two-minute stretch in the second half, they put the game away. Rashford was the architect once again, his surging run starting the sequence that ended with Martial heading Andreas Pereira’s cross past Chelsea backstop Kepa Arrizabalaga from point-blank range:
Rashford then put the game away just 17 seconds after the restart, running onto a glorious through-ball from Paul Pogba and calmly slotting past Kepa:
Substitute James would complete the rout with a debut goal before it was over.
It was a badly needed Week 1 result for a United team that finished last season on a slide after Solskjaer’s honeymoon ended, one that had also been universally panned for not improving its squad during the recently closed transfer window.
Christian Pulisic not in Chelsea’s lineup ...
The American attacker cost the Blues $73 million, and Pulisic had started the final four preseason matches for Frank Lampard after cutting his post-Gold Cup holiday short to join his new team during its Asian tour, by all accounts performing well. Given that, the fact that first-year Chelsea boss Frank Lampard didn’t include the former Borussia Dortmund man in his initial 11 was borderline shocking.
The “Theatre of Dreams” is a notoriously difficult place to play, of course, so maybe Lampard wanted a more defensive-minded lineup. Or perhaps Pulisic has a minor injury we’ve yet to learn about. Whatever the reason, Lampard opted not only for veteran Ross Barkley but also Pulisic’s fellow 20-year-old Mason Mount — who played under the Blues legend on loan at second-tier Derby County last year —in his midfield instead.
With Chelsea in need of a goal, Lampard summoned Pulisic from the bench to replace Barkley with just over half an hour left to play. But instead of changing the momentum, the wheels immediately feel off for Lampard’s side, with United scoring its final three goals after the U.S. men’s national team star had taken the field.
Harry Maguire a rock for the hosts
Maybe United’s summer wasn’t so bad after all. While the consensus seemed to be that the hosts had overpaid for Maguire when they sent almost $100 million to Leicester City to make the England center back the world’s most expensive defender, Maguire was excellent on Sunday.
Not only did he help keep Chelsea off the scoreboard, he started the play that led to the Red Devils’ second goal with a stout tackle at the top of his own penalty box. He also seemed to settle a back line that was highly suspect last season.
It’s early yet. But if Maguire’s contributions continue to be as good as the one he delivered in his debut, United will consider his acquisition money well spent.
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