Chelsea fell to defeat on the opening weekend of the Premier League as Manchester United scored in both halves to take the points at Old Trafford.
Frank Lampard’s side made an encouraging start and twice hit the woodwork in the first period through Tammy Abraham and Emerson, while David de Gea also made one important save to deny Ross Barkley before the break.
Manchester United took the lead against the run of play after 18 minutes when Kurt Zouma upended Rashford in the box and the England international brushed himself down to convert the subsequent spot-kick.
While an entertaining first half ended 1-0 to the hosts, United were more clinical with their finishing after the restart and a quick double effectively ended the contest as Anthony Martial and Rashford beat Kepa Arrizabalaga from close range. A fourth was added before the end when substitute Daniel James found the far corner at the end of a pacey counter-attack.
It left the Blues heading back to London with a heavy scoreline against them and one that felt harsh given the balance of play, though time to reflect will be minimal before the squad fly to Turkey tomorrow for the UEFA Super Cup final in Istanbul.
There was a competitive Chelsea debut for Mason Mount, while Abraham lined up as the attacking spearhead to make his first Blues start as Lampard matched his summer words with actions in trusting his young players on the biggest of stages.
We started the game with the expected 4-2-3-1 system that has been gradually honed in pre-season, with Mount operating from the number 10 position and Pedro joining Ross Barkley out wide. N’Golo Kante was only deemed fit enough for a place on the bench, meaning Mateo Kovacic partnered Jorginho as the two central midfielders in front of the defence.
Despite the summer narrative around youth, there were seven starters from the Europa League final in Baku involved from the first whistle for the visitors and our bright start reflected that quality. Abraham thumped the post inside five minutes after a high-energy opening, the ball finding itself at the striker’s feet after United failed to clear a corner and the 21-year-old beating David de Gea but not the Spaniard’s goal frame.
Anthony Martial provided the first work of the afternoon for our keeper from Spain moments later following a misplaced pass out of defence by Zouma but the forward couldn’t place his finish with enough accuracy to find the bottom corner.
The Blues were brimming with confidence and ought to have capitalised on their early dominance with a goal. Cesar Azpilicueta provided a teasing low cross from the right byline but neither Mount nor Abraham could arrive in time to make contact inside the six-yard box.
Mount then forced a save from De Gea when taking aim from 25 yards, with a deflection off Harry Maguire causing extra problems for United’s number one in front of the Stretford End, though he was able to keep hold of the tricky attempt.
With so much optimism in the Chelsea ranks after such an encouraging first 15 minutes of the season, a mistake in the box opened the door for the hosts. Rashford made ground advancing into the area and had his leg swiped in an attempted challenge from Zouma. Referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot and Rashford stepped up to fire an impressive finish into the top corner.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side seized the initiative and enjoyed their most productive spell of the half, though Martial’s curling effort over the bar was the only notable chance created during that time. Down the other end, Mount latched on to an intricate forward pass from Barkley but opted to pass rather than shoot and the ball was quickly smuggled to safety.
United had the ball in the net again 10 minutes before the break but an offside decision was upheld by VAR and Barkley almost equalised straight away with a fizzing strike that flashed narrowly wide. Two more significant opportunities came and went for Lampard’s side before the end of a half in which we recorded eight attempts.
Barkley was thwarted when De Gea saved with his feet but it was Emerson who went closest when rattling the crossbar. Jorginho provided the delivery, which sailed all the way through to the left-back with time to take a touch, though the woodwork rescued the home side again. After being denied in that fashion on 30 occasions in all competitions last season, it was a familiar frustration for the Blues.
During the walk along the touchline towards the tunnel at the interval, Lampard will have reflected on a positive attacking display that was just lacking a finishing touch. De Gea had also played his part in keeping us at bay and he was at it again 11 minutes after the restart, diving to his left to push away an angled drive from the advanced Emerson.
The contest now had less of the end-to-end drama that had defined the first period and Lampard quickly made a change in an attempt to add greater urgency to his side in the final third. Christian Pulisic entered for his debut but two United goals in two minutes dealt a hefty blow to our hopes of taking something from the game.
Martial made it 2-0 on the break after Abraham had fallen on the edge of the home box but not been awarded a free-kick. The Reds broke forward quickly to expose the space, with Andreas Pereira crossing and Martial arriving on cue to finish from close range.
Rashford then added a third with a quarter of the game remaining, running in between Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen to latch on to Paul Pogba’s clipped pass and tuck the ball past Kepa.
Chelsea had further chances of their own end when Zouma headed over from Mount’s free-kick and Emerson brought a routine stop from De Gea, though it was United who added to their advantage when James came off the bench and netted a debut goal after another quick break forward from inside their own half.
Next up is a trip to Istanbul for the Super Cup final in midweek, with Liverpool the opponents on the European stage.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, Zouma, Emerson; Jorginho (Kante 73), Kovacic; Pedro, Mount, Barkley (Pulisic 58); Abraham (Giroud 66)
Unused subs Caballero, Alonso, Kenedy, Tomori
Booked Zouma 36, Jorginho 52, Abraham 57, Kante 90
Man United De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Pogba, Pereira (James 74); Martial, Rashford (Greenwood 86), Lingard (Mata 86)
Unused subs Romero, Young, Matic, Tuanzebe
Scorers Rashford (pen) 18, 67, Martial 65, James 81
Referee Anthony Taylor