Manchester United plays their FA Cup quarter-final tie away to league leaders Chelsea, with their third trip to Wembley on the horizon. Jose Mourinho decided to field a similar system to the one that took on Rostov on Thursday, with Marcus Rashford beating the race to match fitness to replace the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic to start up front, with Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia, and Ashley Young the other replacements.
The lack of goals in the first half did not mean a lack of action. United found themselves in charge of the early stages, but Chelsea were the ones with the chances to open the scoring, forcing two top class saves from David De Gea. Two yellow card challenges on Eden Hazard saw United go a man down as Ander Herrera was sent off.
Tasked with marking an in-form Hazard, Phil Jones’ role would not have attracted envious eyes. He was deployed deep in midfield and would drop into the defensive line as United were forced deeper, and he was on job. He stuck to Hazard tight, overwhelming him physically when he has the chance. After Herrera’s sending off and United were forced to play deeper, Jones was still solid, if less impressive.
While the sending off affected most players negatively, it gave Marcos Rojo the opportunity to perform on an individual level. With United’s playing with backs against the wall, it required some top class defensive performance to maintain a respectable scoreline, and Rojo provided just that, putting in a measured and disciplined defensive display.
Despite the circumstances, United’s most consistent performer of the season pulls off another great performance, this time from right wingback. Antonio Valencia was deployed as United’s main attacking threat from the right flank, and with United on equal numbers, he was on it, causing trouble to Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso. But as United played deeper after the sending off, Valencia’s defensive capabilities were put to the test, and he definitely passed it. His work rate, in particular, was terrific, being of considerable use in both areas of the pitch, and was much-needed with a man down.
Considering the circumstances, it was important for United’s defenders to perform, and for the most part, they did just that. Valencia and Rojo, in particular, were neck in neck to be named the Man of the Match, but in the end, Rojo’s contribution were much more decisive to prevent the defeat becoming an embarrassment.