Manchester United hammer Chelsea 4-1 to seal Champions League return

<span>Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA</span>
Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

To February’s Carabao Cup triumph Erik ten Hag adds the gilded prize of Champions League qualification, and his first year in charge of Manchester United could still end with FA Cup glory too.

The coup de grace was applied by the irrepressible Bruno Fernandes in the closing stages. The Portuguese nutmegged Wesley Fofana, who clipped his ankle. The referee, Stuart Attwell, awarded a penalty: Fernandes took the spot-kick by waiting for Kepa Arrizabalaga to commit himself, then aimed the ball straight and in.

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Cue some needless contretemps from each set of players for reasons unclear before Fernandes turned creator. The hapless Fofana decided to clear a regulation ball straight to his nemesis. He fed Marcus Rashford, who dummied Arrizabalaga and finished for his 30th goal of the season.

United hunted for the point they needed to seal qualification with Rashford a substitute after illness and the momentum of two wins in a row pushing them forward. There was, too, a snap in the challenge of Fernandes on Conor Gallagher that led to a corner, as United attacked in waves.

A Carney Chukwuemeka shot offered a response but it was only a brief glimmer for the visitors because they were breached. The concession was simple – annoyingly so for Frank Lampard – as Christian Eriksen dropped a free-kick from the left on to Casemiro’s head. The Brazilian, unchallenged, did the rest.

One should have become two only seconds later. Jadon Sancho, along an inside channel, tapped the ball to Fernandes in front of Arrizabalaga’s goal but his touch was clumsy. As regret lingered over the Portuguese, Chelsea went close to forcing him into self-recrimination mode. Kai Havertz broke down the right and squared for Gallagher but he was off the pace and inches from connecting.

Contested in fading evening sunlight, the game ranged from end to end enticingly. Fernandes pinged the ball into Anthony Martial who spun it on for Antony. To no one’s surprise, he chopped inside and took aim with his favoured left foot but the shot careered past Arrizabalaga.

Casemiro watches as his header flies past Kepa Arrizabalaga to give Manchester United an early lead.
Casemiro watches as his header flies past Kepa Arrizabalaga to give Manchester United an early lead. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

The forward chose far better when Eriksen punted a pass into his path and he padded forward before teeing up Martial. The Frenchman should have shot instantly but took a touch instead, and César Azpilicueta poked a toe in to douse the danger.

In the 28th minute Antony was taken off on a stretcher after what appeared an innocuous Trevoh Chalobah challenge. Rashford replaced him, with United’s top scorer going to the left and Sancho moving over to the injured man’s wing.

Chelsea’s lack of a No 9 despite a £600m transfer spend is an apt shorthand for their lost season. When Enzo Fernández sprayed the ball left to the 18-year-old Lewis Hall the full-back delivered a delicious cross that begged to be headed in from yards out. But it was aimed at Havertz, who has been forced into operating at centre-forward, is no natural predator. He missed the target by a few postcodes.

Lampard despaired after that but would have been more cheered by a Mykhaylo Mudryk burst that had United scrambling to clear, another opening the Ukrainian might have prospered from, Gallagher driving in behind and a blocked Hall attempt. Even better was a Noni Madueke turn and pass to Fernández. The Argentinian then found Gallagher, whose effort skimmed marginally wide.

There was no ruthlessness from Chelsea and United soon showed them how to apply the rapier. From near Chelsea’s area Casemiro threaded a no-look pass to Sancho that split the visitors’ defence. They could only watch as he fed Martial who finished.

Fernandes should have done the same after a sharp Victor Lindelöf counterpress pilfered the ball off a dawdling Gallagher and the defender steered it into Sancho. He dummied and passed to Fernandes but, from near-in, the ball was crashed wastefully off the upright.

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Further chances were spurned for United as Eriksen’s stab was palmed off the line by a flailing Arrizabalaga, while Casemiro’s attempt had Ten Hag raising his arms in celebration before he saw it flash wide. It was breathless and lax from United and they nearly paid instantly: Chelsea, via Azpilicueta, forced a corner and Hall wheeled into the area to let fly at David de Gea, who beat the ball out.

The cut and thrust of proceedings was soundtracked by an invigorating and deafening roar as United countered again for an umpteenth time. Fernandes raced into Chelsea’s area and cut the ball back yet his radar was awry: his pass was behind Rashford, who slipped to allow those in blue to escape.

There would, surely, be another goal as holes were being punched everywhere. Fred and Alejandro Garnacho replaced Eriksen and Martial and, yes, a third followed for United. The young Argentine supplied the pass that put Fernandes in for the penalty he converted, before Rashford added another. João Félix registered for Chelsea but it was consolation only.

After United host Fulham they take on Manchester City in the FA Cup final. “We know if we win we stop the option for City getting the treble but for us it’s about getting another trophy,” Fernandes said.