Once more Jose Mourinho was determined not to be the clown at the circus.
This time he custard-pied Chelsea, his former club and champions-elect. Now, with their lead at the top over Tottenham reduced to four points with six matches to play, let the carnival begin.
Mourinho cannot win the Premier League title, not this season – just as he could not three years ago when his Chelsea team arrived at Liverpool. Like United now, they were between vital European matches, complaining about fatigue and fixture congestion, apparently fielding a weakened team – and won.
And by the same scoreline. Mourinho was even wearing a gilet that day, and was again sporting one here, and again he tapped the club crest at the final whistle.
At Anfield, Mourinho said he was determined not to be the “clowns” in “their [Liverpool’s] circus”, and this performance had the same kind of edgy, passionate feel to it, revved up by the fact that he was sacked by Chelsea and that they had angered him with their celebrations in the humiliating 4-0 league win at Stamford Bridge earlier this season. They also knocked United out of the FA Cup.
Unsurprisingly, Mourinho returned to that game. “I had the feeling before that match at Stamford Bridge that we would be playing against Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-finals,” he said, a pointed reference to the referee at Stamford Bridge, Michael Oliver.
That day Ander Herrera was sent off by Oliver for a second bookable offence, fouling Eden Hazard. Here, again, the midfielder was at the centre of things. He was detailed to man-mark Hazard – and did so superbly – but also managed to claim an assist and a goal himself in an outstanding performance.
There was, as ever, controversy with referee Bobby Madley failing to penalise Herrera for a clear hand-ball in the build-up to United’s opening goal but beyond that admittedly crucial detail Chelsea can have few complaints. They were soundly beaten, outfought, out-thought, and did not even record a shot on target.
For their manager Antonio Conte this was a troubling display. He lost goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to injury and then Marcos Alonso to illness in the warm-up, but that did not explain how flat and overwhelmed his team were.
Mourinho had complained about tiredness but it was Chelsea who looked jaded – who looked, in fact, like a favourite and front-runner desperately straining for the finish line. There are 18 points to be won. They need to win five of those games to be mathematically certain, if Spurs keep winning, but suddenly it is no longer a procession. As recently as March 18 Chelsea were 13 points clear.
Suddenly there is that seed of doubt. Suddenly, also, pressure on Spurs, who have played superbly to stay in touch – and, fascinatingly, the sides meet on Saturday in the semi-final Mourinho alluded to. The victor of that may just lay a psychological blow on the other.
There was also pressure on United and Mourinho. He needed this performance, the best he has produced so far as United manager, not just to stay in touch with the top four but also to show he has the ability to out-tactic a vibrant coach like Conte. The fire still burns for Mourinho.
“A special performance because it was a special opponent,” Mourinho later said. “The leader. We played well. We gave them problems… so these three points are phenomenal.” They were, to be fair.
Chelsea badly need Costa to rediscover some form - he's been well off the pace since January
— Matt Law (@Matt_Law_DT) April 16, 2017
Mourinho rested Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and there was a brilliant response from Marcus Rashford, who along with Jesse Lingard had the pace and movement to trouble Chelsea – and that was exposed in the seventh minute.
But there was a clear handball in the build-up, despite Herrera’s weak argument afterwards that it was not deliberate, as he intercepted Nemanja Matic’s pass with an outstretched arm. After that his pass was incisive as he slid the ball past David Luiz with Rashford running on and cutting his shot back across Asmir Begovic and into the net.
Old Trafford erupted. The earliness of the goal – the quickest United had scored this season – fuelled belief, while Eric Bailly and, in particular, Marcos Rojo, took the fight to Diego Costa. Herrera remained shackled to Hazard and Chelsea were knocked out of their stride.
Not once did United relent. Mourinho coaxed, cajoled and ordered. He demanded more and more energy and effort, while Conte looked curiously inactive, a bit like his team, wearing and then disposing of a baseball cap to accompany his suit. His attire jarred, just as his players did on the pitch.
Nothing was happening for them. Hazard could not get on the ball; Costa was losing the battle; Matic was off the pace and N’Golo Kanté could not take control. Further back Chelsea were unsettled, and that was summed up by United’s second goal.
It came early in the second half and gave them an iron grip – which Mourinho would demand was never loosened – with Ashley Young’s cross cut out by Luiz, only for the ball to be casually lost by Kanté. Young seized on to it to work his way into the penalty area. He was challenged by Kurt Zouma and the ball was poked to Herrera, whose shot ricocheted up off Kanté to spin beyond Begovic. Meanwhile, bizarrely, Gary Cahill had taken time out to help Lingard up off the turf as play continued.
Chelsea had no reply. None at all. United are now 22 matches unbeaten – the longest run in Europe’s top five leagues – with Mourinho adding: “Normally you win the title if you are 22 matches unbeaten and we are struggling to finish in the top four.”
But this was a performance of champions.
Man Utd out thought and out fought Chelsea here - Jose Mourinho got his tactics so spot on that it almost feels like Chelsea lost this one off the pitch as much as they did on it.
Mourinho leaves the pitch tapping the Man Utd badge over his heart.
Time on ball (at full time)
Average touch positions (full time)
90 mins +2
Ashley Young absolutely launches himself into a slide tackle on one of the security guards looking after the corner flag. The security guard gets up straight away. Had that been Marcos Rojo, we'd have needed an air ambulance.
Fabregas throws himself into a slide challenge which sets off the United players who want him to be sent off... Fabregas points out that he keeps his foot low while going into the 50/50 and is booked.
Fosu-Mensah is about to come on for the final few moments and is getting detailed instructions from Mourinho right now.
This is better from Chelsea. They're passing it quickly, firing one touch passes into feet and dancing around the wide areas but United defend in numbers and deny them any space whatsoever.
Conte has been quiet on the touchline today, which is odd for him.
Rashford gets a standing ovation as he comes off for Ibrahimovic. He's been the best player on the park by a mile.
Ruben Loftus Cheek is on for Kurt Zouma. A cross to the back post misses ever Chelsea player - nothing is really working for Conte's side today.
Young very nearly dribbles past three Chelsea players and clean through on goal but just slightly overhits a touch and gives Luiz the ball. Zlatan is about to come on for the final minutes of this one.
Chelsea just can't find any space in this United defence. Mourinho is scowling on the touchline for some reason.
Time on ball (60 - 75 min)
Rashford has been a nightmare for Chelsea to deal with today. He nearly wins a corner as every other United player sits deep defending but it's a goal kick and Fabregas chips a long ball forward and Costa goes down... yellow card for Rojo. Fabregas takes the free-kick and it is absolutely useless. De Gea catches.
United are in their ultra defensive shape now with about six defenders across the penalty area. Chelsea pass from side to side to try and open them up but De Gea catches Pedro's low cross and then United go on an attack.
Herrera is booked for tripping Hazard off from behind. Hazard isn't happy about it, Herrera goes over to Hazard's ear and says something before getting ready for the free-kick.
Chelsea look like they might be finding their rhythm now... and then Willian gives the ball away cheaply. Rashford goes on the counter-attack and it takes three defenders to deal with him - Luiz and Kante get shrugged off by the striker.
"He's been more like Diego Costa than Diego Costa today," says Neville about Rashford.
Hazard is wide left, looks up and spots Pedro on the right and finds him with a beautiful long pass. Pedro cuts inside, fakes to cross and then gets a shot away, winning a corner.
United deal with it well, doubling up on Costa on the penalty spot.
Matic is coming off for Willian. He had a poor game.
Rashford hits the side netting! Matic - who has had a shocker today - tries to dribble out of defence and loses it, Rashford turns, sprints and shoots.
Luiz blocks the striker when he receives the ball just inside the box moments after - United still have Chelsea completely figured out here.
Time on ball (45 - 60 min)
Mourinho has reacted to Chelsea's change by putting Carrick on for Lingard, filling the midfield out and making sure Chelsea can't dominate the centre of the park.
United are so aggressive in the tackle! It's clearly unsettling Chelsea's rhythm. Hazard might as well not be on the pitch either, he's done nothing.
Conte reacts and makes changes. Moses is off, Fabregas on. That will put Azpilicueta at left-back, Zouma at right-back. Fabregas has gone behind Costa in a three man attacking midfield.
Costa fouls Darmian. I get the feeling that if United keep the score the same, Costa might heroically earn himself a few games of rest with some sort of mildly violent action.
Ooooohhhh and it could be three! Rashford is superb here. He considers the shot, thinks against it, turns back and spots Lingard's clever run into space and gives him a simple pass to set up the shot. Lingard shoots high. That's the kind of shooting opportunity Mourinho has been on about his players wasting in recent weeks.
Man Utd have doubled their lead, and it's Ander Herrera with the goal to make it 2-0.
And how! Young dribbles into the box as Kante gives the ball away, Herrera strikes through a bunch of bodies and it deflects over and through the goalkeeper.
Rashford takes the free-kick but Pogba but has to work hard to keep it alive... and he's done that!
Valencia has the ball on the right and can't quite make up his mind as to what to do with it, so he bounces on the spot as though he were a Street Fighter 2 character you're about to select. I was wrong about the Chelsea back four, the formation is exactly the same.
Cahill brings down Fellaini with a high boot and is booked. United players try to make something of it but the referee quickly calms it all down.
Here we go!
The players are back on the pitch, Conte had some words with Willian as they did so. We might see him soon.
I think Chelsea might be playing with a back four now...
United's man marking
United's defensive shape is essentially a man by man marking job. Hazard is circled in the middle but as you'll observe in the average touch positions below, Herrera is mostly on the ball in a sort of right sided defensive midfield role.
United's forwards go one on one with the defenders and the midfielders are all marked too, which means Chelsea have to go long from defence. Costa has constant company in the striker role from two central defenders, while Pedro is never going to win aerial battles and Hazard is getting so annoyed that he's drifting inside into areas he can't influence the game. Mourinho's team is defending superbly by playing on the front foot - it's really clever.
Average touch positions (half time)
Time on ball (first half)
Chelsea were unadventurous in the first 45
Chelsea managed just a solitary, off-target shot in the first half.
Young balloons a shot over the bar from 20 yards as the ball sits up perfectly. Chelsea players are slipping all over the pitch. New studs needed.
And that's it! A tactical masterclass from Jose Mourinho's Man Utd in that first half, Conte has a lot of thinking to do.
45 mins +1
Costa hasn't been very good today and he's snatching at passes. He's a little rattled by the quick snap tackling United are doing on him too - as soon as he gets the ball he has to pass it or he's getting binned.
He's just had a shot from about 35 yards which flies wide of the far post. Conte looks pensive and thoughtful on the touchline.
The visitors have their first shot of the game, in reply to three so far from Man Utd.
WOOOOOOOH that is close. Rashford catches the defence out with a quick one-two, Moses tries to recover and slips, then Cahill is relieved to see his header land on top of the net and not resting in the back of it. Pedro tries to counter-attack but isn't quite fast enough... and Azpilicueta slips while trying to cross on the right. Young has gone down clutching his jaw because Moses caught him - the kind of thing rugby players (sorry) deal with every couple of minutes. Young is obviously in serious pain.... oh no he's fine. Well recovered.
Gary Neville reckons Eden Hazard is lost at the moment "wandering around aimlessly in the middle of the pitch" and I agree. He needs to come out to the left side to support Moses and stop Costa from being pulled out to the wing but is instead looking for the ball in the centre and has Herrera giving him defender cuddles the entire time.
Chelsea attack yet to make much of an impression
The visitors haven't yet managed to apply some concerted pressure on the Man Utd backline.
Chelsea have a free-kick wide right, spend forever setting it up and as soon as Hazard takes his kick, Matic (I think) gives away a free-kick for pushing in the box. What a waste.
Costa goes in for a header which he has to compete for, Rojo catches him and goes down "injured" while Costa gets caught in the face by Rojo, who is at it. It's pathetic - both of them pretending to be injured to get the other in trouble.
And as I type that, Costa is booked for catching Pogba with a late one. He had to go for the block, in fairness.
Rashford and Lingard doing a fine job of harassing Chelsea's defence. Bailly and Rojo aggressive v Costa. Herrera influential, Matic not.
— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) April 16, 2017
Costa is being nibbled at by Herrera, Rojo and the rest and might be getting a little agitated with all the attention. Just because he's fiery doesn't mean he's a disciplinary liability though - he never gets sent off.
Time on ball (15 - 30 min)
Victor Moses has switched to left wing-back now with Azpilicueta out right. Rashford has just dribbled his way past Matic by the box, leaving him looking stupid as he gets to the byline and pulls it back for Young, who shoots wide.
United are creating space all over the pitch here - I've not seen Chelsea look so uncomfortable since they switched to this 3-4-2-1 system.
Man Utd are dominating the ball so far
Man Utd are letting the ball do the work - they've had 239 touches compared to just 149 for Chelsea.
It's such a weird shape from United! Two strikers, two wide players supporting them to pull the three man defence apart and United's third defender is Ander Herrera. Herrera is basically a roaming destroyer. Fellaini is a floating reference point for long passes, and Lingard and Rashford are a little duo darting around the final third. It's difficult to work out what Chelsea can do to gain an advantage. They're stuck in counter-attack mode and can't keep hold of the ball.
Free-kick to United 30 yards out. Rashford takes it curling towards the back post but it's headed away and Chelsea can counter-attack. They do exactly that until slightly inside Chelsea' half, at which point Costa is superbly dispossessed with a sliding tackle.
More danger for Chelsea! Rashford gets ahead of Moses on the right, holds him off and crosses into the box. Begovic dives to palm away the ball and then a foul is committed, ending the move. United have played this game superbly so far.
Great defending from United as Hazard approaches the final third. Valencia comes across to block his run inside, Herrera is standing in his way down the outside. He passes into a mash of players and gives away possession.
Fellaini is key in this Mourinho gameplan. The ball is being played long to him to beat the Chelsea press and he just has to bring it down from wherever he's wandered on the pitch - there doesn't seem to be a fixed position for him.
Costa goes down after a challenge by Rojo, who is going around annoying every Chelsea forward. It won't be long til he's booked.
Bailly has a good laugh at/with Costa, who waits for Bailly to commit to chasing him and then falls over during the sprint. Bailly knows what he's up to and seems to find it funny enough.
Rashford and Lingard are giving Chelsea's defence the heebie jeebies here - whenever a pass is played forward they are absolutely launching themselves at it, turbo boosters on.
Time on ball (0 - 15 min)
Fellaini appears to have been tasked with closing down Matic, just as Herrera is in charge of keeping Hazard company.
United's players are all raging about something, Rojo has his hand slapped by Costa. Costa is at the centre of controversy here as he's appeared to shove Bailly while attacking the ball at the back post. He's shoved him but it's nothing to cry about, although Bailly does clearly put his head through the post, which would have hurt.
United are dominating at the moment and have Chelsea pinned back. Pogba sprays a long pass to Rashford to chase, he takes it down but Luiz is close and wins the tackle. United's midfield and forwards keep swapping positions - it must be a nightmare to defend against.
1-0! Marcus Rashford strikes to give Man Utd the early lead.
And Mourinho's tactics have worked perfectly from the start! Rashford is playing on the shoulder of the last man and bursts away from Luiz to finish well past Begovic.
HOWEVER - it very much looked like a handball by Herrera in the build up to that. Chelsea were on the attack, Matic threaded a pass out left and it came off Herrera's arm. The referee waved play on and Chelsea were caught out by the forward pass.
Fellaini's first touch from high balls is unbelievable. The keeper has just nailed the ball forward 70 yards and he lets it drop onto his chest and turns in one movement - it's such an under appreciated skill.
United's shape is really confusing. Players keep moving around and taking up different positions depending on where the ball is and all of a sudden Rashford sneaks in behind and can run at goal. He heads the ball into the ground and takes an early shot but drags it way wide.
Alonso reported feeling unwell this morning but wanted to give it a go, then decided he wasn't up to it during that warm up. Sounds fair.
Ander Herrera is doing a man to man marking job on Eden Hazard but the Belgian has found space already and put Azpilicueta in a decent crossing position on the left... cleared.
And here they go.
And it's LIVE!
Marcos Alonso is out of the game
The Spaniard has picked up an injury in the warm up and is now out of the squad for today's match. That's an enormous loss for Chelsea - he's been an essential part of the team and it means a reshuffle in the defence. Kurt Zouma comes in, which means Azpilicueta will probably play wide left.
Jose Mourinho says
"We made some changes, especially after player's feedbacks and some other players they played Thursday and they have to play again. After this we'll think about Thursday.
"I think they need a victory to keep distance to Spurs and we need one to mathematically finish in top four."
Antonio Conte says
"During the week he had an injury in his ankle and he didn't recover for this game. I hope only this game.
"I think it's not important the way he had this injury.
"It's not easy against United and for sure we want to play our football and take three points and the same United wants to do. I think we can see a good match.
"I don't think good news, I think Manchester United has a good squad and can find substitution in this way."
Man Utd will most likely line up in a 4-3-3, which will change to a 4-2-3-1 in attack and most likely a 5-4-1 in defence. Chelsea will play like Chelsea.
The last time United played Chelsea, there were clear instructions to kick Eden Hazard whenever he got the ball and limit his influence. Chelsea's real strength is in the wide areas and United will likely double up in these areas to limit the effect that Alonso/Hazard and Moses/Pedro can have.
According to Gary Neville it looks like a counter-attack set up based on Marcus Rashford's pace: "It looks like a team who will play deeper, maybe even six at the back at times.
"It's a tactic Mourinho thinks can be successful"
Why is the Premier League trophy at Old Trafford?
Explanation for this being in the Old Trafford press room: it's on tour. When will it come back for a whole year? pic.twitter.com/Zd0xqxq9CT
— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) April 16, 2017
"He's tired - very tired," says Mourinho on Zlatan. "I’ll try to protect him but let’s see the result. He's on the bench and ready to help." pic.twitter.com/4VhjH70Usn
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 16, 2017
Mourinho just wants to watch the world burn
This starting XI has 11 or 12 goals between them... Mourinho is either on the wind up, trying to justify an enormous amount of spending in the summer, putting a message out to his current players that they aren't good enough or just wants to toast his hands over an open fire of burning Twitter messages.
Great day for football
Mmmm mmmmm. That's some delicious Manchester spring weather for you there.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 16, 2017
Asmir Begovic plays today because Thibaut Courtois has reportedly picked up an ankle injury. The Belgian hasn't even made the bench.
Mourinho focusing on Europe?
What kind of message is Jose Mourinho putting out here? Zlatan Ibrahimovic has admitted he feels tired but the decision to drop/rest Zlatan along with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick suggests to me that Mourinho is playing for a draw on the counter-attack here today and has shifted his focus to winning the Europa League.
Marcus Rashford leads the line on his own, Ashley Young is captain. I also can't help but feel this might be one of those "if you want to win things you need to support me in the transfer window" secret statements that Mourinho makes to those above him in club hierarchies from time to time...
Team news: No Zlatan or Courtois!
Big news at Old Trafford! Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn't in the starting XI...
De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Rojo, Darmian; Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba; Lingard, Young, Rashford
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 16, 2017
Begovic, Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill, Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso, Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard
Eduardo, Zouma, Terry, Loftus-Cheek, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.
What is it?
When is it?
Sunday April 16th.
What time is kick-off?
What TV channel is it on?
Sky Sports 1, with coverage getting under way at 3.30pm. Alternatively, you could bookmark this page and follow our rolling blog.
What is the team news?
Phil Jones (toe), Chris Smalling (knee), Juan Mata (groin) and Ashley Young (knock) are all out injured, while Wayne Rooney is doubtful (ankle).
David de Gea is expected to have recovered from the "small" hip injury that forced him out of Sunday's 3-0 win at Sunderland, and Antonio Valencia is available again after having a muscular problem.
Provisional squad: De Gea, Romero, Darmian, Blind, Bailly, Rojo, Shaw, Valencia, Fosu-Mensah, Fellaini, Carrick, Herrera, Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic, Lingard, Martial, Rashford
Possible XI: Romero, Darmian, Bailly, Rojo, Shaw, Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic, Lingard.
Antonio Conte has a fully fit squad to pick from after Victor Moses returned to the side to face Bournemouth.
Provisional squad: Courtois, Begovic, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Terry, Luiz, Cahill, Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso, Pedro, Hazard, Costa, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi, Chalobah.
Possible XI: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso, Pedro, Costa, Hazard.
Any interesting match stats?
Manchester United are without a win in eight Premier League games against Chelsea (D4 L4); their longest ever winless streak against a single opponent in the competition.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are looking to achieve a league double over Manchester United for the first time since the 2009-10 season under Carlo Ancelotti.
A win for the away side would see Antonio Conte become the fourth Chelsea boss to record a Premier League double over United, after Glenn Hoddle in 1993-94, Jose Mourinho in 2004-05 and Ancelotti in 2009-10.
United have scored just three goals in their last 10 games against Chelsea in all competitions (an average of 0.3 per game).
N’Golo Kante has netted each of Chelsea’s last two goals against United in all competitions – they are his only goals in 34 appearances for Conte’s side.
Manchester United’s Premier League unbeaten run now stands at 21 matches (W11 D10 L0) – the joint 10th longest unbeaten run in the history of the competition.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been involved in 18 goals in his last 17 Premier League appearances (13 goals, 5 assists).
Chelsea have won as many points this season after 31 matches as it took to win the league exactly 20 years ago (Manchester United with 75 points in 1996/97).
What are the odds?
United win - 7/4
Draw - 9/4
Chelsea win - 9/5
What's our prediction?
A hard-fought 1-1 draw.
Who do you think will win?