In the midst of the television hype surrounding his return to Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho downplayed the game as just another. It only took thirty seconds to throw that theory to the wolves. The Special One returned to his old haunt in no better shape than when he left; if anything, the decline is steadily getting worse.
On an afternoon that all Manchester United fans would endeavour to forget, the Reds were shamed by an impressively ruthless display from Chelsea. Not that they ever help themselves: less than a minute into the game, David de Gea was caught wandering and could only watch as Pedro rounded an entire defence to slot the first of four concessions for United.
Whatever discipline remained from the draw against Liverpool had evaporated into thin air by the time Gary Cahill doubled the lead twenty minutes later.
Arguments could be made for David Luiz to have seen the showers early, having lunged into Fellaini’s knee with a studs-straight-in challenge; his indiscretion garnered only a yellow. But the truth is that Chelsea going a man down would still have felt like the Blues having a three or four man advantage, such was the lack of display from a rudderless team who never would have capitulated under the Mourinho who roamed the sidelines twelve years ago.
United’s misery was further exacerbated through injury to Eric Bailly. The prospect of the central defender – one of the bright spots of the team so far this season – missing an extended period of time with torn knee ligaments, only serves to heighten the concern that, perhaps, this team still isn’t ready to fight for a Champions League position, let alone challenging for the title.
Paul Pogba remains a cryptic figure, shunning the confident display of Thursday night in the Europa League and proving highly ineffectual for a star of his magnitude (and transfer fee). Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player who could and should have relished a game like this, had yet another headed opportunity that missed its mark at an opportune moment. How Marouane Fellaini snuck back into the side after a masterful performance from Michael Carrick midweek, only Jose can answer.
Lucky to only be down by two at half time, United offered very little throughout and were punished in the 62nd minute by an inspired Eden Hazard, wrongfooting a poor Chris Smalling to slot neatly beyond De Gea’s left glove to net a third. The clincher, beautifully taken by N’Golo Kante, once again made a mockery of the skipper as he sidestepped into open space and chose the keeper’s right to slip the ball past.
The away fans were as loud as always, a situation not lost on Antonio Conte who riled his own supporters to match the energy. Sadly, the reds did not heed the cries and will be as disappointed in their performance as Mourinho was in his post-match interviews.
Needless to say, if this Manchester United turns up against City in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday, 4-0 would be a lucky escape.