Manchester United won a hotly contested battle against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday night, as a controversial 2-0 win once again saw VAR dominated the headlines.
Antony Martial and Harry Maguire both scored headers either side of half time as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men rode their luck at times to secure all three points.
The Blues were twice victims of marginal calls as substitutes Kurt Zouma and then Olivier Giroud both saw their efforts ruled out in an eventful Premier League clash.
In a first 45 devoid of quality, Aaron Wan Bissaka produced an excellent cross for Martial to divert past Willy Caballero just minutes before the interval.
Zouma thought he had dragged his side back level but Azplicueta was deemed to have fouled Brandon Williams in the build-up and the goal was disallowed.
Man Utd skipper Maguire who was fortunate to still be on the field, having earlier appeared to kick out at Michy Batshuayi, then powered home from a Bruno Fernandes corner.
But the drama wasn’t finished there, Giroud thought he had halved the deficit but again VAR came to the visitors’ rescue.
Key Talking Point
Where else to start, other than that three-letter word VAR?
It was a night of sheer frustration for Lampard’s men as not once but twice they were denied goals courtesy of the video assistant referee, while the system failed to intervene on Maguire’s off-the-ball challenge.
First Zouma’s effort was ruled out after Azplicueta had been adjudged to push Williams in the build-up to the goal.
But it appeared harsh, especially as the Spaniard had been initially impeded by United midfielder Fred.
Then they had the injustice of Maguire finding the back of the net after the England defender arguably should have been sent off for his earlier kick out on Batshuayi.
Substitute Giroud was the next to be denied, though there was little to complain about as his foot was clearly offside for his expertly taken header.
Nevertheless, it was another game that once again had pundits and spectators alike talking about VAR and its implications, more than the teams’ performances.
Starting XI: Caballero (6); James (6), Christensen (5), Rüdiger (5), Azpilicueta (6); Jorginho (6), Kanté (5), Kovačić (7*); Willian (6), Pedro (5), Batshuayi (4)
Subs: Mount (7), Zouma (7), Giroud (7)
STAR MAN – Mateo Kovačić
The Croatian midfielder is enjoying his best season in the Blue of Chelsea and he was once again the driving force behind Lampard’s men against United.
He was constantly looking to pick the ball up and make things happen for the home side.
The midfielder was at his battling best up against Fred and Chelsea old boy Nemanja Matić in the centre of the park.
Ngolo Kanté being forced off early through injury meant a greater onus was placed on Kovačić’s shoulders, a responsibility which he took in his stride.
He was denied by a wonderful last-ditch challenge by Eric Bailly as Chelsea looked to claw their way back into the game.
Key Talking Point
United probably should have been down to ten men with Maguire lucky to stay on the pitch. In a carbon copy of the Heung-min Son red card against Chelsea, tumbling to the floor Maguire seemed to petulantly kick out at Batshuayi off the ball, catching him in the groin.
Referee Antony Taylor missed the indiscretion but the decision was consulted by VAR. However, no violent conduct was decided and Maguire remained on the field.
It was, without doubt, a turning point in the game as United would have found it an uphill task had Maguire received his marching orders.
The Chelsea bench, boss Lampard and Jody Morris were up in arms by the ruling to wave play on without punishment for United’s skipper.
Starting XI: De Gea (6); Wan-Bissaka (7), Bailly (8*), Maguire (7), Shaw (7), Williams (7); Fred (7), Matić (8), B.Fernandes (8); James (6), Martial (7).
Subs: Pereira (6), Ighalo (6), Dalot (N/A)
STAR MAN – Eric Bailly
After a nervy start to the game, Bailly grew into the match and gave a solid performance at the heart of United’s defence.
It was expected that the defender would take a while to bed back into United’s rearguard, having been out since the opening day victory against Chelsea in August.
But it didn’t take him long to settle back in and he produced reminders of his undoubted quality alongside Maguire and Luke Shaw in a United back three.
He slotted straight back into the team and it didn’t appear as if he had gone over six months without seeing first-team action.
The Ivorian produced one incredible block to deny Kovačić when Chelsea were threatening to mount a fightback.
It was not a flawless display but one full of promise and United’s fans will be pleased to have Bailly back available once again.
The Blues face another stern Premier League test on Saturday as they come up against former boss Jose Mourinho and Tottenham to Stamford Bridge.
United are back in action on Thursday night when they travel to Belgium to take on Club Brugge in the first leg of their last 16 Europa League tie.