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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho masterminded a brilliant and unexpected 2-0 home victory over former club Chelsea on Sunday to breathe new life into the Premier League title race.
Mourinho gambled by resting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera’s goals gave United a win that leaves Chelsea just four points above Tottenham Hotspur with six games to play.
Victory at Old Trafford also lifted United to within four points of fourth-place Manchester City, on whom they have a game in hand, ahead of the derby at the Etihad Stadium on April 27.
It was a personal triumph for Mourinho, who saw his side thrashed 4-0 at Chelsea in October and was branded “Judas” by fans of his old club during last month’s FA Cup defeat at Stamford Bridge.
A wet, cold Manchester afternoon was the setting for United to end a run of 12 games without victory against Chelsea, stretching back to a 3-2 away win in October 2012.
Chelsea have now lost twice in four games, having gone down 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace earlier this month, which will give in-form Spurs fresh hope that the Blues may yet collapse as the finishing line nears.
The top two meet at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-finals next weekend in what now looks a significant test of Chelsea’s mettle.
United, meanwhile, will approach Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg at home to Anderlecht, which is poised at 1-1, on the back of their best display under Mourinho.
Chelsea were without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois due to an ankle problem, while Marcos Alonso succumbed to a virus, bringing Asmir Begovic and Kurt Zouma into their usual first XI.
Mourinho set United up to stop Chelsea, with Herrera and Matteo Darmian tasked with the responsibility of tracking dangermen Eden Hazard and Pedro wherever they went.
But despite Herrera’s chief role as a stifler, he created United’s seventh-minute opener, albeit in contentious circumstances.
He seemed to block Nemanja Matic’s pass with his right hand, but referee Robert Madley played on, enabling Herrera to split the Chelsea defence with a sublime through ball for Rashford.
The 19-year-old raced in behind David Luiz before clipping a shot past Begovic for his ninth goal of the season.
Costa became embroiled in penalty-box tangles with United centre-backs Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo and was booked for a late challenge on Paul Pogba.
With the willing Jesse Lingard in support of Rashford, United looked far more lively going forward.
Ashley Young twice spurned presentable shooting opportunities from the edge of the box, while Rashford saw a cross headed onto the roof of the net by Gary Cahill.
Short of a 25-yard drive by Costa that flashed wide in stoppage time, the half-time whistle sounded without Chelsea having offered anything in attack.
Any hopes the visitors had of masterminding a turnaround vanished within four minutes of kick-off in the second half as Herrera doubled United’s lead.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte sent on Cesc Fabregas for Victor Moses, with Pedro moving to wing-back, but still the league leaders toiled, Pedro twice curling shots over De Gea’s bar.
At the other end Rashford remained a constant menace, teeing up Lingard to bend a shot over and twice going close himself, ruffling the side-netting and testing Begovic at his near post.
When he departed in the 82nd minute, with Ibrahimovic taking his place, he was accorded a richly deserved standing ovation.
Marcus Rashford extended Manchester United’s 100 percent start to the Premier League season with a dramatic strike two minutes into stoppage time to seal a 1-0 win at Hull City on Saturday.
Teenage forward Rashford, left out of the starting line-up for each of United’s opening three matches, made his case for greater involvement as he came on as a substitute to convert Wayne Rooney’s low cross from close range.
Up to that point, it looked like being an evening of frustration for Jose Mourinho’s team, but they leave the KCOM Stadium in second place in the table behind leaders Chelsea only on goals scored.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic went close twice in the first half for United, while Rooney was denied by a brilliant first-half block from Hull captain Curtis Davies.
Hull, themselves looking to maintain a perfect league record, spent most of the match on the defensive but did have threatening moments of their own.
Robert Snodgrass’ free-kick flew just wide in the opening half, while Tom Huddlestone’s shot was deflected just wide off Eric Bailly inside the final 15 minutes.
Indeed, David Meyler lifted a shot over the bar from a promising position just seconds before Rashford struck, leaving the home side wondering what might have been.
Aside from the agonising manner of the defeat, a major concern for their caretaker manager Mike Phelan, though, will be an injury to Scotland international Snodgrass, who had to come off early in the second half.
Phelan, who is hoping to sign goalkeeper David Marshall from Cardiff City, is desperately short of senior players, despite the return of defender Harry Maguire from injury.
Hull’s stand-in manager is continuing to have to field players out of position, with midfielder Jake Livermore once again filling in as a centre-back, and winger Sam Clucas figuring in a holding midfield role.
The club’s lack of signings has been a sore point with supporters, who have called for owners Assem and Ehab Allam to leave the club.
Despite chaos off the pitch, Hull’s players have shown remarkable strength in adversity on it, withstanding United’s pressure until the final seconds in torrential rain in east Yorkshire.
The visitors almost took the lead in the eighth minute, when Ibrahimovic glanced a header onto the roof of the net from Anthony Martial’s clever cross.
They found it difficult to create clear chances after that and Hull did cause problems at the other end.
Marouane Fellaini conceded a free-kick right on the edge of the penalty area which Snodgrass, a regular threat from set-pieces, curled just wide.
United should have gone in front eight minutes before the interval when Juan Mata raced past Andrew Robertson and crossed for Rooney six yards out, but the England captain’s effort was blocked by Davies, and the visitors’ appeals for handball went unheeded.
Ibrahimovic then backheeled into the side-netting just before half-time, and United’s search for a goal continued with little success for much of the second period.
Paul Pogba and substitute Henrikh Mkhitaryan both had long-range efforts that missed the target, and the match looked set for a draw until Rashford’s late intervention.
Jose Mourinho’s first game as manager of Manchester United ended in a short trip and comfortable 2-0 victory over newly-promoted Championship side Wigan Athletic at their DW Stadium on Saturday.
Goals early in the second half from Will Keane and Andreas Pereira secured victory for United who parted company with former manager Louis van Gaal after winning the FA Cup on their last competitive outing two months ago.
It was a weakened United line-up at the disposal of their new manager given that 14 players who represented their countries in the European Championships and Copa America this summer were unavailable and have yet to return to training.
Nevertheless, it is a sign of the strength in depth that Mourinho will have at his call this season that the starting line-up he selected still boasted summer signings Eric Bailly andHenrikh Mkhitaryan, bought for a total of nearly £60 million (71.7 million euros), and England left-back Luke Shaw, returning after 10 months out of action with a broken leg.
The game, arranged at short notice to give Mournho extra competition prior to his team leaving for a tour of China on Tuesday, was predictably low-key.
But it still represented a winning start to his reign as United manager as the 5,500 United supporters in attendance welcomed him by chanting his name within the opening minute.
The victory will doubtless have pleased their manager even if the opening goal was a gift from veteran Wigan goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen who made an appalling clearance directly to Juan Mata who squared for Keane to convert after 48 minutes.
Ten minutes later, United doubled their advantage with a goal that clearly owed much to the work put in by Mourinho in his first week on the training ground with his new charges.
A well-worked free-kick saw Mata pick out Ander Herrera in the Wigan penalty area and, after his shot was blocked, Brazilian Pereira was handed the simple opportunity to sweep the ball in from a dozen yards.
Otherwise, the game was a typical pre-season affair, with Mourinho making seven half-time substitutions, and swapping all 11 players before the end of the 90 minutes.
Interestingly, Ivory Coast defender Bailly, a new arrival from Villarreal, played longer than any other outfield player, seeing out 82 minutes of the contest, as Mourinho presumably attempts to acclimatise him to the English game.
But the United manager will nevertheless have gained satisfaction, and information, from the game with the new playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the first Armenian to play in the Premier League, particularly bright in the ppening exchanges.
His neat lay-off after eight minutes should have been converted by Memphis Depay only for the Dutchman to see his shot blocked and the same United forward was guilty of an even more glaring miss halfway through the opening period when he missed the target at the far post after more good approach play from Mkhitaryan.
Indeed, it was easy to see how Mkhitaryan led the Bundesliga in assists with Borussia Dortmund last season and he might have capped his first United outing with a goal just before the interval but volleyed over from a Jesse Lingard cross.
The 45-minute performance of Shaw will also have pleased his new manager as the left-back showed no ill effects from the horrific double broken leg he suffered early last season in a Champions League tie at PSV Eindhoven.
Mourinho will now welcome back the remaining 14 international players to Old Trafford this week ahead of Tuesday’s departure to China where his team plays Dortmund in Shanghai and a Manchester derby meeting with City in Beijing.
However, while a number of those players, including England internationals Chris Smalling, Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford, will travel with the squad, Mourinho has indicated they will not play in the two fixtures.
Veteran newcomer Zlatan Ibrahimovic may remain in Manchester to concentrate on his fitness.