Chelsea’s ambitions are such that the forwards on their radar have been Timo Werner and Kai Havertz rather than Oli McBurnie and David McGoldrick but while Sheffield United’s strike force can promise more industry than potency they cut through Frank Lampard’s defence in a way that could cause considerable damage. Chelsea suffered their heaviest league defeat since his managerial bow and a beating at Bramall Lane means Leicester and Manchester United have the potential to knock Chelsea out of the top four by Monday night; when, indeed, they will know if fifth will be enough to secure Champions League football.
Havertz may be deterred and Werner may yet be playing in the Europa League next season. So may United, whose extraordinary season gets better and better. They have taken four points each off Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, beating each in Yorkshire. A capital return was capped on a landmark occasion for McGoldrick. After waiting all season for a league goal, and his entire career for one at this level, he scored two in an afternoon. Chelsea could not handle him, or the workaholic McBurnie. They were shambolic, United euphoric.
As Chris Wilder’s non-scoring striker scored, Lampard’s non-saving goalkeeper saved, but only in a way that permitted the persistent McGoldrick to eventually find the net. United had prospered despite McGoldrick’s lack of goals. His considerable efforts have made him popular but not prolific. Eventually, in his 26th game at this level and at the age of 32, he received a different kind of reward: a belated first Premier League strike. He was on hand to convert the rebound after Kepa Arrizabalaga parried McBurnie’s deflected shot. It was another goal to invite questions if the world’s most expensive keeper could have done better: Arrizabalaga saves too few efforts and when he did block one, he was unable to push it to safety.
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He scarcely moved for United’s second. He was not alone in that. Enda Stevens was released behind a static defence by a one-two with Ben Osborn and when he crossed, Andreas Christensen allowed McBurnie to plant his header in.
The third reflected badly on Christensen’s replacement. Antonio Rudiger only cleared Lys Mousset’s cross to McGoldrick, who finished with the kind of assurance he has rarely displayed this season. When Mousset surged through Chelsea’s collapsing defence, it could have been four. Instead, he dinked a shot wide when humiliation beckoned.
It was nevertheless a wonderful day for the Blades. Their ability to outwork opponents, to outflank teams and to engineer overloads was apparent again; so, too, their capacity to cause confusion. Lampard’s dissatisfaction with his side may have been evident in a half-time double change. He shifted shape: to 3-4-3, to a Wilder-esque 3-5-2, to 4-4-2. He had brought Jorginho and Tammy Abraham back into the team, and now he may have to remove them again. Claudio Ranieri was supposed to be the Tinkerman, not the midfielder he signed. Now the change Chelsea require is a return to winning ways.
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