Manchester United feels to their first defeat in their last 20 matches when they lost 3-1 to Chelsea in the semi-final of the Emirates FA Cup this season on Sunday evening at Wembley. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made some changes from the last match; a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace on Thursday ahead of their Premier League clash with West Ham United on Wednesday evening, which could see United rise to fourth in the table, which would be good enough to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
United conceded the first goal in added time at the end of the first half, after Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire collided heads, which saw Bailly unable to complete the match, walking off the pitch then stretchered off from the sidelines. Chelsea opened the scoring through Olivier Giroud. Immediately after the break, Mason Mount doubles Chelsea’s lead before a Maguire own goal left United too far from a comeback. However, a late penalty scored by Bruno Fernandes gave United consolation.
Solskjaer won the FA Cup as a player back in the 1998/99 season when the club won the treble, adding the Premier League and the Champions League and becoming the first English team to achieve the feat, which also say Alex Ferguson being knighted for his achievement, which will be seen as his greatest in the game. United seem a long way from the team that they were more than 20 years ago but they are heading in the right direction under the Norwegian.
After the match, Solskjaer was asked a series of questions about the performance and many other things. Talking about the performance of his team against Lampard’s Chelsea side, the disappointed Norwegian, speaking to the official Manchester United website, said:
“Of course, if you lose the game you’re very disappointed. We had the first half that we expected, two teams that knew each other really well.
“We waited a bit for each other, nothing really happened until the long layoff and their goal and of course that’s disappointing that we go into half-time 1-0 down.
“We tried to make a change, a positive change, but it didn’t work.”
It is clear that United will need to do much better. A 19-match unbeaten run has now been ended and the club will have to start again, aiming to break that record, which will take the club into next season. It would have been good to finish the season unbeaten but it was not meant to be. Speaking about United needing to do better, Solskjaer stated:
“You want to win everything and we’re very disappointed in the dressing room, but we need to be better in these big games when it matters.
“We know that, we’ll have to take that into account, learn again and get ready for the next big ones. We’ve got two in five days coming up.”
During the first have against Chelsea, central defender Eric Bailly was injured then moments later collided with Harry Maguire and initially looked fine but kept falling over. This led to him being replaced by Anthony Martial. Bailly walked off the pitch but was stretchered off, suggesting that it was a serious injury. United conceded shortly after Bailly was injured. Solskjaer confirmed:
“We hope Eric will be fine. He had a cut on his head. When he and Harry were down for a long time, it was a big moment.
“Obviously the long layoff was a big test and we didn’t pass it because we lost our concentration and conceded a goal just before half-time, which was disappointing. That had a massive impact on the game.”
Maguire was also injured having a cut to his head. Are was bandaged up and was ready to continue after treatment. In the second half, he emerged without the bandage and looked fine to continue playing, which he did. Solskjaer confirmed that the player was fine, other than a cut to the eye, saying:
“Harry’s fine. He had a cut above the eye so he’ll be fine.”
Solskjaer was criticised by supporters and pundits for his team selection, changing the formation when he could have sent his team out better prepared in the same formation they have been playing in for the past month or so. It did not work for United, which was confirmed by the manager, as he said:
“We picked a team today to give us a best possible opportunity to go through in the cup and be ready for Wednesday.
“It didn’t work today. We almost got to half-time and we had the change when Eric had to come off, but that will stand us in good stead for Wednesday. I picked a team today to go through.”
Goalkeeper David De Gea made two mistakes in the first half – not making a save to deny Giroud from opening up the scoring and immediately after the break, not doing enough to prevent Mount’s strike from hitting the back of the net. The goalkeeper will know the mistakes that he committed but he has been full of them of late. Speaking about his goalkeeper, Solskjaer stated:
“Obviously everyone has to perform and everyone has a chance every time we play to stake a claim in the team.
“David knows he should have saved the second goal, but that’s done now. We’ve got to move on and look forward to Wednesday. It’s hard for a keeper to make amends apart from David making two or three fantastic saves after.
“It’s so much easier for outfield players but David, in the rest of the game, made a few good saves. But he knows he could have saved that one.”
Brandon Williams, 19, played like a proper United player in the defeat against Chelsea. He kept his head up and continued to do what he needed to do. It has only been a week since he clashed heads and came off worse, missing the victory over Crystal Palace on Thursday and returning to the squad for Sunday’s defeat. Solskjaer, full of praise for the teenager, said:
“You saw Brandon [Williams] and the character he showed. He played a square pass into Mount [which led to their second goal] and he probably felt a bit responsible, but for the rest of the half he was absolutely outstanding.
“The kid has been out for a while and not played, and had the eye injury, but his character and personality out there was great, he kept going and kept going.”
Finally, talking about learning as a team, Solskjaer confirmed that his Sid have a lot to learn and that they are developing. Many of the best teams will learn more from a defeat than they will a victory so this came at a great time for United. The players will need to stand up and be counted in their next match. Solskjaer concluded by saying:
“What do we have to learn? We’ve got loads of things to learn as a team, but we are learning and we are developing.
“This team took a knock today confidence-wise, but let’s see how the reaction is on Wednesday.”
United will be back in action on Wednesday evening, welcoming West Ham United to the Theatre of Dreams for the final Premier League match at the stadium this season, ahead of the final league match away to Leicester City a week from today (Sunday 26 July 2020). As Leicester fell to a 3-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, their goal difference, which was higher than United’s has taken a hit. United have the same number of points as Leicester (62) with a game in hand. If they win that, it will be advantage United in the race to finish fourth, or higher.
Written by John Walker