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.
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.
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.