Manchester United booked their place in next season’s Champions League with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford.
Erik ten Hag’s men needed just a point to confirm a top-four finish and Casemiro settled any early nerves with a free header on six minutes to net his fourth league goal of the campaign.
Chelsea, who named their youngest ever average starting XI in Premier League history, had some big moments in the final third in the first half but the profligacy that has blighted their season was evident once more with Mykhailo Mudryk, Kai Havertz and Conor Gallagher the main culprits.
United suffered a blow just prior to the half-hour mark when Antony was stretchered off with just nine days until the FA Cup final, but they doubled their lead going into the interval when Anthony Martial tapped in Jadon Sancho’s unselfish pass.
Bruno Fernandes hit the woodwork and Casemiro fizzed inches wide as the hosts pushed for a third in the second period before Fernandes made completely sure of the win with a composed penalty on 73 minutes.
Substitute Marcus Rashford then took advantage of some shocking Chelsea defending to add a fourth five minutes later and snare his 30th goal of the season. Joao Felix added a consolation goal late on, but it mattered little.
The result sees the Red Devils move up to third spot, two points ahead of Newcastle United in fourth and effectively ends fifth-placed Liverpool’s slim hopes of gate-crashing the top four at the death.
Chelsea stay 12th and set a new club record with a 16th defeat in a 38-game Premier League season to compound finishing in the bottom half of the top-flight for the first time in 27 years.
Manchester United end the league season at home to Fulham on Sunday afternoon while Chelsea host Newcastle United.
Manchester United back in Europe’s big time with a game to spare as FA Cup final looms. Ten Hag’s first season at the helm will now undoubtedly go down as a significant success. It’s no secret the mood around Old Trafford and the vibe throughout the club as a whole has changed as a result of his positive influence, but now the Dutchman’s impact is backed up by tangible results.
It’s mission accomplished with a return to Europe’s Premier competition and one trophy already in the bag. Now it’s the small matter of signing off the PL season at home to Fulham before the FA Cup final. Can they make a very good season a great one by stopping neighbours City on step two of three in their treble quest? The Citizens will be heavy favourites to win at Wembley but United will be desperate to stop Pep Guardiola’s champions from emulating the Red Devils’ 1999 heroics. It makes for a great story as part of a series of intriguing sub plots going into a first all-Manchester final.
Player of the match
Casemiro (Man United). What a signing the 31-year-old Brazilian has proven to be. Followed up his winner at Bournemouth with the opener here and had a big hand in the second on the stroke of half time.
MAN UNITED: De Gea 7, Wan-Bissaka 8, Varane 7, Lindelof 8, Shaw 6, Casemiro 9, Eriksen 8, Antony 6, Fernandes 8, Sancho 8, Martial 7. Subs: Rashford 8, Malacia 7, Fred 6, Garnacho 6, McTominay n/a.
CHELSEA: Kepa 7, W Fofana 5, Chalobah 6, Azpilicueta 6, Hall 7, Fernandez 7, Chukwuemeka 6, Madueke 6, Gallagher 6, Havertz 5, Mudryk 5. Subs: Joao Felix 7, Pulisic 6, D Fofana n/a, Loftus-Cheek n/a, Ziyech n/a.
05’ – CHELSEA CHANCE! Hall scampers free down the left and lays the ball into the middle for Mudryk who somehow fails to properly connect with what looked like a simple enough finish from eight yards out.
06’ – GOAL! – Man United 1-0 Chelsea. Casemiro is left free to flick a header beyond Kepa from a right-wing free kick.
33’ – CHELSEA CHANCE! A superb Blues move ends with Havertz heading way off target from Hall’s excellent left-wing cross.
45+1’ – CHELSEA CHANCE! Gallagher collects a pass on the right side of the area but drags his low effort wide of the far post.
45+6’ – GOAL! – Man United 2-0 Chelsea. Martial taps in from close range after wonderful play from Casemiro and Sancho put it on a plate for the French striker.
48’ – MAN UNITED CHANCE! The hosts easily carve the Blues open with Lindelof and Sancho teeing up Fernandes, but the midfielder’s thumping strike slaps back off the crossbar.
53’ – MAN UNITED CHANCE! Kepa somehow claws Eriksen’s improvised close-range shot off the line before Casemiro guides a lovely 25-yard effort inches wide of the far post.
73’ – GOAL! – Man United 3-0 Chelsea. Fernandes steps up and tucks a calm spot kick beyond Kepa. The penalty was awarded after Fofana caught Fernandes in the area.
78’ – GOAL! – Man United 4-0 Chelsea. Rashford gets in on the act with a simple tap-in after Kepa had saved his initial effort. Fofana pretty much gifted that to the hosts with a stray pass inside his own area.
89’ – GOAL! – Man United 4-1 Chelsea. Felix charges at the heart of the United defence and fires a lovely, low strike into the far corner from 25 yards out.
Chelsea are just the third team in Premier League history to start as many as nine players aged under 24 in a match, after Middlesbrough (10 v Fulham, May 2006) and Aston Villa (10 v Swansea, Jan 2013).
Casemiro has scored in back-to-back league appearances for the first time since February 2019, when he was playing for Real Madrid at La Liga.
Ten Hag’s side are unbeaten in 29 games at Old Trafford in all competitions, winning 25 and drawing four.
Rashford has become the first Manchester United player to score 30 goals in a season since Robin Van Persie in 2012/13 and the first to net 20 at Old Trafford since Wayne Rooney in 2009-10.
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