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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.
A glorious rainbow provided a fitting backdrop to West Ham United’s last FA Cup tie at Upton Park but Manchester United ended a momentous evening hinting at a brighter future after reaching the semi-finals with a 2-1 victory.
Much-maligned all season and in grave danger of missing out on Champions League qualification after a drubbing at Tottenham Hotspur, United returned to the capital to produce one of their most vibrant displays of a poor campaign.
Teenager Marcus Rashford broke the deadlock with a sensational curling shot after 54 minutes before Marouane Fellaini’s close-range effort sent United’s 5,000-strong travelling fans barmy.
James Tomkins’s header set up a nerve-jangling finale as West Ham threw the kitchen sink at David de Gea’s goal but Andy Carroll headed a glorious chance over and the Spanish keeper produced heroics to repel a late onslaught.
“I saw the gap in the corner and shouted ‘shoot’ and he did, but it’s more difficult than you think,” United manager Louis van Gaal, who introduced England skipper Wayne Rooney as a late substitute after a knee injury, told reporters of Rashford’s goal.
“I said I wanted a title and I am very happy but, it’s not about me, it is very important for the club,” added the Dutchman whose side will face Everton in a Wembley semi-final.
The atmosphere was electric as West Ham kicked off their 155th and final FA Cup tie at the 112-year-old Boleyn ground, which they will leave for the gleaming Olympic Stadium next season, but after an opening burst the Hammers fell flat.
West Ham talisman Dimitri Payet struggled to conjure any magic and a tired-looking London side were tormented by Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial as United’s slick passing took its toll.
Manager Slaven Bilic made no excuses for his side’s first home defeat since August in the quarter-final replay.
“They were better tonight in the majority of the game. We had energy and commitment but they were killing us with ball possession,” Bilic said.
“Apart from the first 15 minutes and final 20 they were the better side.”
United, whose 11th FA Cup victory came 12 years ago, weathered an early storm and began to pick through West Ham with ominous regularity.
West Ham keeper Darren Randolph saved from Fellaini and Lingard before halftime, but he was a mere spectator as Rashford broke the deadlock.
Played in by Martial, the 18-year-old Rashford left Tomkins for dead on the edge of the area before finding the top right-hand corner with a sumptuous shot for his sixth goal for United.
Fellaini was rewarded for an industrious display when he deflected in Martial’s driven cross to double the lead.
When Tomkins headed in for West Ham, United came under a ferocious aerial assault but Carroll headed over and De Gea made a brilliant double save to deny Cheikhou Kouyate and Carroll.