Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata broke a seven-game goal drought in style to strike a 55th-minute winner as the defending champions beat Manchester United 1-0 in a hard-fought Premier League fixture at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
After a 3-0 humbling at the hands of Serie A side Roma in midweek and seeing league leaders Manchester City open up an eight-point lead earlier on Sunday, Chelsea were under pressure to clinch three points and they did just that thanks to a thumping header from their record signing.
Centre-back Cesar Azpilicueta spotted his compatriot’s run and delivered a peach of a cross between two United defenders for the No.9 to head past David de Gea early in the second-half.
United started the match the stronger of the sides but were somewhat lucky not to be behind when centre-back Phil Jones put the ball into his own net after pressure from Morata. Referee Anthony Taylor felt the Spanish forward had pushed Jones in the back and the goal was ruled out.
Marcus Rashford would then go close to scoring as he was afforded a free header inside the box but perhaps the onrushing Thibaut Courtois forced the young forward to hurry his attempt and the home support heaved a sigh of relief as the ball sailed over the post.
United forward Romelu Lukaku, who has not scored against a ‘top’ side this season, would then test his compatriot Courtois’ reflexes with a shot from outside the box as the visitors showed they weren’t going to ‘park the bus’ against the Blues.
Chelsea, however, started to exert control over proceedings and star winger Eden Hazard would sting de Gea’s palms with a fierce shot after cutting in from the right wing.
The hosts were dominating possession, but lacked that incisiveness required to breach United’s steely defence.
Young centre-back Andreas Christensen, a surprising inclusion ahead of David Luiz in the starting XI, had the final major chance of the first-half as he sent a header wide of de Gea’s post as the teams went into the dressing rooms at the interval deadlocked.
The Blues picked up where they left off in the second-half and deservedly took the lead when the Spanish duo of Azpilicueta and Morata combined to devastating effect, not for the first time this season.
Jose Mourinho, back at a venue he knew inside and out, sent on Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini in a response to going down but the two were unable to affect proceedings as Chelsea held firm to secure an invaluable three points.
Chelsea still trail leaders City by an hefty nine points but with their win over United, have trimmed the gap between themselves and the second-placed Red Devils to a solitary point and will head into the final international break with a renewed sense of belief.
For United, despite remaining in second place, their second defeat in three Premier League games has seen their title hopes fade away and they will look to regroup in the coming days.