16 Conclusions on Chelsea 4-3 Man Utd: Ten Hag sack, Palmer saves Poch, Casemiro and Caicedo awful

Matt Stead
Manchester United midfielder Casemiro, Chelsea player Cole Palmer and manager Erik ten Hag
Chelsea versus Manchester United was absolutely ridiculous

Cole Palmer saved Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea job. Antony and Alejandro Garnacho tried to do the same for Erik ten Hag but he is done at Manchester United.


1) Erik ten Hag is right and Sir Jim Ratcliffe absolutely must take heed: don’t interrupt this process. It really is incredibly funny and must be allowed to continue for the foreseeable future. Same goes for you, Todd Boehly.


2) ‘Tell them I’ll fix this’ was the immortal message Casemiro sent to his agent as Manchester United imploded against Brentford in August 2022. With his transfer from Real Madrid not yet ratified, the midfielder sought to underline his commitment to the cause and quash any sense that he might try and renege on any agreement after watching his future employers concede four goals in 35 first-half minutes.

What Casemiro served up against Chelsea might genuinely have been just as bad on an individual level. He offered absolutely no resistance at any point when the Blues were in the ascendancy, nor was he even vaguely involved in Manchester United’s recovery. It would be an insult to call him a passenger, such was the range of his performance from utter ineffectiveness to actively detrimental.

Looking over his shoulder twice to check the position of Conor Gallagher before failing to block the opening goal; jogging back and even away from a sauntering Nicolas Jackson to combat a Chelsea counter; bringing the entire sum total of nothing in possession. It was a disastrous display in a recent series of them.

There was an improvement in the second half – and almost a trademark headed goal from a corner – but the bar was already halfway towards the Earth’s core. Fred was substituted at half-time in that Brentford humbling; Casemiro could not have complained if that same mercy had been shown. This brave new era cannot include him.

Manchester United midfielder Casemiro
Casemiro had a dreadful game for Manchester United


3) It made for a particularly unflattering comparison with the energy and industry of Chelsea’s midfield. Gallagher’s tirelessness earned a pre-emptive reward with that goal in the fourth minute and early on it was striking just how stark the difference was in terms of work-rate between the two sides.

Ally McCoist was not angry, just disappointed when his open exasperation about “application” was crowned by Marc Cucurella sprinting to intercept a Casemiro pass the unknowing Antony was standing and waiting to receive.

As he said, it really did “sum up” a first half Chelsea dominated for the most part.


4) About a minute later, the visitors halved the deficit because neither they nor Chelsea should ever be taken seriously. The Blues had been comfortably the better side but Moises Caicedo chose a sub-optimal time to realise his Manchester United dream, assisting his first goal for the club.

It was terrible execution of an awful decision. The pass back to the keeper was on but Caicedo attempted the square ball to Benoit Badiashile, who was understandably expecting nothing of the sort. Alejandro Garnacho capitalised and did excellently to convert a chance he never should have had.

Caicedo was taken off after 71 patchy minutes – and booked from the bench 40 minutes later. It is worth reiterating, because it somehow received some backlash, that he has been one of the worst signings of the Premier League season.


5) It was Caicedo whose pass in the centre circle Kobbie Mainoo snapped up to retrieve ahead of a prone Enzo Fernandez in the 40th minute, helping Manchester United build another attack almost immediately after they had equalised through Fernandes.

It was a mirror of the earlier moment involving Casemiro, Antony and Cucurella, and just as effective in providing a snapshot of the volatile momentum in a game between two completely unstable, chaotic and frankly ludicrous teams.


6) Straight after that Garnacho goal out of nowhere, Djordje Petrovic put a simple pass to a backtracking Cucurella straight out for a throw-in, from which Bruno Fernandes worked a presentable shooting opportunity.

Chelsea had been far more dangerous and anything Manchester United managed to create was blocked until they were handed a lifeline by their opponents. But that one moment seemed to cause a sudden and inexorable psychological collapse in a team which, it should be reminded, was still leading 2-1.

That Manchester United somehow managed to top that catastrophic disintegration by the end was genuinely impressive, and whichever side happened to emerge from such a stupid game should not convince themselves this is in any way a solid foundation upon which to build going forward. It was illogical entertainment and should only be embraced as such.


7) That first Manchester United goal would not have been possible without – at least until the last two of 11 second-half stoppage-time minutes – the game’s key player.

Antony’s balance between the ridiculous and sublime has been laughably weighted in favour of the former since his £86m move, but this was the sort of breakout performance Ten Hag might point to and the player himself must harness.

It was Antony who kept the high ball in which Caicedo inexplicably recycled to Garnacho. It also Antony who was adjudged to have fouled Cucurella for the penalty Cole Palmer converted to give Chelsea a two-goal lead. But equally Antony whose switch opened the game up for the Fernandes equaliser, whose ball across the face of goal after gaining a measure of revenge on Cucurella by rinsing the Chelsea defender should have been converted, and whose phenomenal delivery with the outside of his boot after he himself intercepted Badiashile’s pass assisted Garnacho’s second goal.

It was, after that naive early mistake, a phenomenal performance. Perhaps that is simply incredibly damning of Cucurella, who started well and subsequently caved in on himself. Then again, Antony’s last badge-clutching turned corner came against Newport so this was undoubtedly progress on a personal level


8) How unfortunate that Manchester United fan Palmer decided to chip in with his first career hat-trick in an utterly sensational showman’s production.

Nine shots. Eight key passes. One team carried on his back. There is a reason the cameras cut to Palmer after a Manchester United equaliser he shouldered no responsibility whatsoever for: he embodies every positive aspect of this side and is being regularly let down by incompetence.

The three goals can be reduced to two penalties and a deflected shot but his brilliance is ubiquitous. It is not normal for any team – never mind one the size and with the resources of Chelsea – to rely on a 21-year-old in his first season of senior football. But the sheer extent to which every teammate leans on him knowing that he can conjure something from nothing is extraordinary.

The goals make for an obvious headline and quantifiable impact. But it can be found in the first-time cross-field balls to release Mykhaylo Mudryk, the sort which no other player would even contemplate. Or the way in which Diogo Dalot was, not for the last time, thoroughly embarrassed by quick thought and feet.

He is, in so very many ways, an absolutely astounding player.

Chelsea forward Cole Palmer celebrates scoring against Manchester United
Cole Palmer is having a phenomenal season for Chelsea


9) Manchester United were presumably aware of that, yet still decided to leave Palmer completely unmarked on the edge of the area in the 11th minute of stoppage time, with no-one closing him down until the last possible moment.

Every single visiting player was in the area. Fernandes, Scott McTominay and Mason Mount at the very least pointed to Palmer and the 10 yards or so of open space surrounding him, but neither they nor a teammate did anything about it.

Combine that with the defending for the Fernandes equaliser, when Chelsea had six defenders in their own area against just two Manchester United attackers, both of whom still found themselves unmarked at the back post, and it was a match underpinned by utter amateurishness from both sides.


10) As absurd as the first half was, it was also unsustainable. There was a farcical amount of turnovers and the attacks were almost constant. Arsenal’s goalless draw with Manchester City was the inevitable consequence of two defensively phenomenal teams playing a risk-averse game with too much to lose; this was pretty much the exact opposite in every sense.

It resulted in an almost equal split of 24 shots before the break (13-11 in Manchester United’s favour), shared out between 12 players. Quite brilliantly, the actual centre-forwards Rasmus Hojlund and Jackson were not among them. Again, unsustainable.

That did eventually turn out to be the case, but only after the second half started with the two teams having 12 shots in 14 minutes – Hojlund and Jackson both pitched in this time – with a few three-versus-three and four-versus-two situations for either side, Axel Disasi giving the ball away and celebrating the subsequent last-ditch tackle wildly in front of the home supporters, and Harry Maguire dribbling down the left and lashing one just over.

Stupid, stupid game.


11) Garnacho took both of his goals wonderfully and might feel a little frustrated they were ultimately in vain, considering he came off for Mount in the 86th minute with Manchester United still leading.

His was the least deserving defeat of all. The composure he showed for the first goal was matched with bravery and movement for the second and the Argentinean could not possibly have done any more to drag his team through on his 28th consecutive start.

For a 19-year-old in such an erratic team, he has been staggeringly good.


12) No player on either side blocked more shots than Jonny Evans, who came on for the injured Raphael Varane at half-time and went off with his own issues about 20 minutes later. It is safe to assume the Northern Irishman wouldn’t have afforded Palmer the freedom of West London after nearly two hours.


13) The final substitution of ten was the most important. Mauricio Pochettino introduced Raheem Sterling, Carney Chukwuemeka, Alfie Gilchrist and Trevoh Chalobah before Noni Madueke replaced Gallagher in the 89th minute. With Manchester United retreating further back it was one final roll of the dice to find a way through.

Madueke’s lack of chances has been a point of contention within the fanbase and this will only add fuel to that fire. Collecting a Fernandez pass, he stood Dalot up and then suddenly burst past him into the area, falling under contact from the slipping defender to win the penalty.

The Gilchrist substitution felt particularly odd as Malo Gusto had been productive going forward the entire evening. The Madueke change swung things back in Chelsea’s favour and by that point Manchester United could have no response.


14) It was clumsy from Dalot and Madueke never should have been allowed to reach that stage in the first place. It is incredibly easy to say in hindsight but take the yellow in that isolated position against a fresh winger and let the team recover its shape. Dalot was foolish to think he could win that particular battle and it cost Manchester United.

Worse still, after Palmer had converted the penalty and Chelsea went in search of an unthinkable winner, it was Dalot who attempted an overly ambitious run to atone for the mistake, compounding it as the ball was turned over and eventually resulted in the corner the Blues scored their fourth from.

It was costly negligence from a player who was thought to have outgrown such ineptitude.


15) The opponent against which it came should be warning enough for Chelsea not to simply assume this is a turning point. It would be easy for this young side to become complacent, rest on their laurels and think the hard work is done before losing to Sheffield United on Sunday. It would also be typical: only twice this season have they gone on a run of consecutive Premier League wins.

Pochettino was right in saying Chelsea “needed a game like this” to help “connect” with the supporters. And as much as it felt like a moment where something had finally clicked, they were equally two minutes, a debatable penalty and a deflected goal away from a result which would have likely precipitated another managerial change.

Chelsea and Manchester United are both in enough of a mess that victory for either would have damned them when taking into account how difficult they made it look.

This could be critical for Pochettino at Chelsea. It will also be delaying the inevitable unless he and they harness it properly. It was ultimately no different to any of their other wins this season: genius from Palmer offsetting defensive inadequacies and collective mental frailty. And it remains the case that the manager is being kept in the job by a player whose signing he resisted in the first place.


16) There is an alternate timeline in which Ten Hag is similarly pointing to Antony and Garnacho as match-winning proof that questions over his future as Manchester United manager are redundant. That much can be inferred by his actions on this particular timeline, in which he has publicly attributed every single defeat to luck, a refereeing decision or both, with his own part in those semi-regular losses entirely ignored.

This specific one might not have been on him. More of the blame can certainly be apportioned to Dalot, Casemiro and others who made costly individual mistakes in this instance and it is not difficult to envisage that game being played again and Manchester United emerging victorious.

But this point has been made before: that in itself is damning. Ten Hag has turned Manchester United into a team which depends on fine margins falling for them to win. They have won as many games as they have drawn or lost in all competitions this season (21 each). This was their 17th Premier League game to be decided by a single-goal margin either way in 2023/24; Luton (16) are next, followed by Wolves (15) and Nottingham Forest (14). And with all due respect to those sides, that is not company Manchester United’s manager should be actively trying to keep; not with the investment that role has been and will continue to be given.

The same goes for the situation with shots, of which Manchester United have faced more than anyone. There can be legitimate tactical reasons for that but they are rarely favourable and any injury excuse put forward has been dismantled by the way other teams have dealt with the absences of key players.

There is confirmation bias at play but Manchester United’s last shot was Garnacho’s goal, after which Chelsea had 10 unanswered attempts. That was only ever likely to produce one result and it was a deliberate choice from Ten Hag to sit on a slender lead away at a team whose strengths and weaknesses match theirs: the capacity to hurt any defence while being undermined by its own. In their last two matches this team has conceded equalisers in the 99th and 100th minute, and a winning goal in the 101st.

Manchester United have faced the teams currently 10th, 15th and 16th in their last three Premier League games, having 43 shots and conceding 72, winning one, drawing one and losing one. There is no better microcosm of Ten Hag’s bizarre philosophy.

Roy Hodgson is available if they really desire that innate variance but it feels like Ratcliffe’s “process”, whatever form it comes to take this summer and beyond, would be better served by someone without such a massive, bizarre and intentional inbuilt inferiority complex. Or a coach who at least recognises there might be a correlation between conceding more shots and conceding more goals.

READ MORETen Hag bemoans ‘lucky’ Chelsea comeback after ‘soft’ penalty steals game Man Utd ‘deserved to win’

Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino and Manchester United coach Erik ten Hag
Mauricio Pochettino argues with Erik ten Hag on the touchline