Neil: Humphreys: Lingard pinches lucky win for Man United
Man United sub saves Mourinho's bores in snooze fest
Jesse Lingard needed just 10 minutes to get his manager out of jail.
|(Romelu Lukaku 39, Jesse Lingard 75)||(Willian 32)|
The Manchester United substitute sent a towering header into the top corner in the 75th minute, earning Jose Mourinho a victory that his tactics scarcely deserved.
When Lingard came on, the hosts were labouring against Chelsea, the contest spluttering towards a tedious draw.
The knives were drawn.
Yet again, Mourinho had played safe against a top-four rival. Yet again, he had shut up shop in his own back yard. Only this time, he got away with it.
As the game died a death of a thousand sideways passes, Romelu Lukaku broke free and floated a perfect cross.
Lingard rose highest and United pinched a 2-1 victory.
For the previous 74, largely brain-strippingly dull minutes, there was little to suggest a home triumph.
The line-ups suggested that both managers had appeased critics by recalling their biggest names.
Paul Pogba returned for United and was even rewarded with his favoured position, further forward and to the left of a midfield trio.
And Alvaro Morata led the line in a loose 3-4-2-1 formation for Chelsea.
The Spaniard needed just five minutes to show his striking pedigree.
United's initially lopsided approach, with Anthony Martial on the left and Alexis Sanchez behind Lukaku, left their right flank strangely exposed.
Devouring the space like a Pac-Man, Marcos Alonso bombed forward and volleyed a cross into the box.
Morata connected beautifully, but smashed the woodwork.
And then, as expected, very little of note happened for half an hour.
Mourinho's United happily conceded possession to the opposition, once again, at home. That's Old Trafford, the Theatre of Dreams, living up to its name only in the sense that these tactics are worthy of a Sunday snooze.
United boast tremendous pace and power in Martial, Lukaku and Sanchez, but there was little speed of thought.
Chelsea's inevitable opener felt like justice had been served.
Willian dashed away on the counter-attack, the Brazilian leaving Scott McTominay in his slipstream before finding Eden Hazard on the right.
The Belgian's reverse pass was glorious. Willian's thumped finish was decisive. Chelsea's 32nd-minute lead was thoroughly deserved.
David de Gea punched the ground, furious to be beaten at his near post. But even he can't stop rockets.
But the goal proved to be a rocket up the collective backsides of the dozing hosts.
Against the run of play, United were level seven minutes later.
Lukaku had spent most of the half lumbering around like Frankenstein's Monster, but his accomplished finish was just what the doctor ordered.
As Chelsea's dithering back three failed to clear, Martial slipped a pass to the burly Belgian, who beat Thibaut Courtois from eight metres.
United's interplay was sharp and fast, a teasing glimpse of what their forward line can do when they occasionally see the ball.
Mourinho's deeply ingrained caution against top-four sides continues to be an exasperating experience.
Until Lukaku's equaliser, Old Trafford sounded less alive than a mortuary at midnight.
The prawn sandwich munchers can hardly be blamed when Mourinho has packed them in like sardines on the pitch.
Neither side pressed with the gleeful urgency of Manchester City or Liverpool, but it remains disconcerting to see visitors to Old Trafford essentially take charge.
There was the odd United flourish. Lukaku's hooked volley inspired a fine tip-over from Courtois in the 67th minute.
But a draw looked inevitable, until Lingard's dramatic intervention.
Mourinho deserves credit for the timely substitution, and the United faithful must accept that they'll continue to pinch the points without being pretty.
Mourinho isn't interested in entertainment.
Victory is all that matters.