Chelsea returned to the top four in the Premier League with a hard-fought victory over former manager Jose Mourinho’s side. The pressure was very much on the Blues following a poor result in the Champions League but Antonio Conte’s men delivered when it mattered.

David Luiz’s surprise omission dominated the pre-match headlines as Conte decided to exclude the enigmatic Brazilian from the matchday squad – citing problems with his attitude rather than his fitness. The Blues have plenty of positive news, though, in the form of N’Golo Kante, who returned to the starting lineup to give Chelsea a much more balanced-looking midfield, with Fabregas, Bakayoko and Hazard being given the freedom to play between the lines.

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Manchester United have been heavily criticised in recent weeks for their lack of ambition in big matches so far this season but dominated the opening exchanges of a lively encounter with Marcus Rashford heading over inexplicably with the goal at his mercy with ten minutes on the clock. Romelu Lukaku tested his Belgian counterpart Thibaut Courtois in the Blues’ goal on the turn after Phil Jones had spectacularly finished into his own net at the other end – a goal ruled out due to a push from Alvaro Morata in the build-up.

Chelsea build confidence after early scare

Eden Hazard stung the palms of David de Gea before the break, with Cesc Fabregas heading the follow-up into the side-netting, whilst Andreas Christensen could have done better with a header from a corner as the Stamford Bridge faithful began to grow in confidence in the build-up to halftime.

The second half started in much the same vein, with Morata only managing to strike wide after smart work on the edge of the area before Hazard and Fabregas combined with the former firing straight at the impressive de Gea on the half volley. The pressure told in the 55th minute however with the only moment of brilliance in the game.

Morata repays Conte’s patience

Cesar Azpilicueta, back in his central defensive role was afforded time and space to pick out Morata who leapt, unmarked, to expertly guide his header past a stranded de Gea to the sheer joy of Antonio Conte and the Chelsea fans packed inside the Bridge. It was the Spaniard’s first goal in seven appearances and was a goal of real quality – worthy of deciding any game.

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Chelsea continued to dominate the game, with Morata having a couple more chances to put the game to bed but the Spaniard couldn’t convert. United threatened in the last five minutes: Rashford’s fizzing volley from the edge of the area zipped past the post, Marouane Fellaini – who made his presence felt in the Chelsea box – saw his volley saved by Thibaut Courtois and with pretty much the last kick of the match, Rashford’s free-kick flew just over the top of the crossbar.

Palpable relief for Italian

The full-time whistle was met with joyous scenes from Antonio Conte, his players and staff. The relief was palpable and Conte will be hoping the result can be a catalyst in the race to catch Manchester City in the Premier League table.

International football is back on the agenda this week, meaning the Premier League returns in a fortnight (November 19), with Chelsea facing a tough-looking trip to West Bromwich Albion before Manchester United welcome Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle side to Old Trafford.

Header image by Brian Minkoff (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons