United confirm Champions League return

Erik Ten Hag’s Manchester United knew that they could go four points clear of Liverpool with just a draw at Old Trafford on Thursday – and that would be enough to ensure their participation in next season’s UEFA Champions League. Their opponents, Chelsea, have struggled for form as of late and linger in mid-table with nothing to play for but pride.

MUN: De Gea; Shaw, Lindelof, Varane, Wan-Bissaka; Eriksen, Casemiro; Sancho, Fernandes, Antony; Martial

CHE: Kepa; Hall, Chalobah, Fofana, Azpilicueta; Gallagher, Fernandez, Chukwuemeka; Mudryk, Havertz, Madueke

The Blues could have taken the lead within five minutes, as great play between Gallagher and Hall allowed the full-back to dart down the left flank – though he squared it to Mudryk, and the Ukrainian’s effort was sent well wide of the target.

With six minutes on the clock, it was United that took the lead from a Christian Eriksen set-piece. Casemiro rose highest inside the box, leaping above Fofana to nod a bullet header past Kepa Arrizabalaga. A lengthy VAR check ensued though after appeals for offside, though the Brazilian’s goal was eventually allowed to stand.

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Gallagher looked to line up a shot from just inside the box as the game continued, but the Englishman lost his footing – slipping and missing the ball entirely. That allowed United to counterattack with pace, though Antony’s curling effort sailed wide of the far post.

Under pressure though, United squandered another chance as Antony played in Martial in the penalty area. The Frenchman’s control was woeful though, allowing Kepa to claim the ball with ease to ensure the deficit remained at just one goal.

Rashford was introduced perhaps earlier than Erik Ten Hag would have liked, as Antony was stretchered off the pitch as the game approached the thirty minute mark. The winger had been hauled to the ground by Chalobah’s outstretched leg, and was in too much pain to hobble off.

Minutes before half time, Mudryk blew a huge chance for Chelsea to equalise. Nice buildup play saw the Ukrainian receive the ball on the left of the box – his first touch let him down though, as it was unbelievably heavy and the ball got away from him. Another chance went amiss for the Blues as Gallagher’s strike flew past the far post.

Martial made amends for his earlier miss deep in stoppage time, tapping in a close-range finish to double United’s break ahead of the interval. Sancho found space to break away from Hall, squaring to his teammate who made no mistake this time round.

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Soon after play resumed for the second half, Bruno Fernandes came close to adding United’s third of the evening but to no avail. Sancho cut the ball back to the midfield maestro – his strike from just inside the box rattled the woodwork.

Chaos in front of goal saw United come just millimetres from scoring – as Eriksen’s effort was cleared off the line by Kepa. The ball fell to Casemiro, but he wasn’t able to find his second strike of the evening as he fired an inch or two wide of the upright.

Bad would turn to worse for the Blues with twenty minutes left to play, as Fofana conceded Chelsea’s first penalty of the season. A last-ditch attempt to bring Fernandes to the ground was punished with a spot kick, and the midfield maestro send the ‘keeper the wrong way with a tame effort. A scuffle after that third goal saw Malacia awarded a yellow card for his involvement in the conflict.

To rub salt into the wounds, Marcus Rashford added a fourth just mere moments later. Having conceded the penalty, Fofana was at fault once again – playing an underpowered pass across the face of goal that Marcus Rashford was able to intercept and almost walk over the line.

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With time rapidly running out, Joao Felix danced through the United defence to bag a late goal. It would be nothing more than a mere consolation though, as any hopes of a comeback had faded quite a while earlier.

McTominay looked to pounce on a poor Chelsea defence deep in stoppage time, receiving the ball and hammering an effort towards the near post – though Kepa was able to make himself big and prevent the Scottish international from adding United’s fifth of the night.

A stunning performance under the lights at Old Trafford ensures that Manchester United will play UEFA Champions League football next season – joining the women’s team, who are through to at least the qualifying rounds after their dramatic win over Manchester City.