Goals from Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera gave Manchester United a deserved victory over Premier League leaders Chelsea at Old Trafford.
Rashford gave the Reds the perfect start with a composed finish inside seven minutes before Herrera’s deflected shot found the net early in the second half to secure a memorable win.
It was just rewards for an impressive display as United extended the unbeaten run in the league to 22 games since being beaten by the Blues in October to maintain the pursuit of a top-four finish.
For the visit of his former club, Jose Mourinho made four changes from Thursday’s Europa League draw against Anderlecht in Belgium as David De Gea returned in goal and Ashley Young came in to captain the side, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic named on the bench.
A wet and miserable Easter Sunday afternoon didn’t dampen the atmosphere inside the Theatre of Dreams, which was typically electric as the Reds settled well and created the first opening in the fifth minute.
Jesse Lingard harried David Luiz into a mistake and Rashford seized on to the loose ball to bear down on goal, only to scuff his shot wide of the post, but it gave the vociferous United fans plenty of early encouragement.
And, moments later, the young striker came up with the goods to break the deadlock, timing his run to perfection from a pinpoint through ball by Herrera to calmly slot past Chelsea’s replacement goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and send Old Trafford into pandemonium.
The Reds continued to press high up the pitch to unsettle the Blues, with Lingard and Rashford in particular giving Chelsea’s back three a torrid time with their tireless work ethic, while at the back, Eric Bailly proved he was up to the task in shackling the visitors’ leading marksman Diego Costa and Herrera did a sterling job in keeping PFA Player of the Year nominee Eden Hazard quiet.
As the sun broke out over the Theatre of Dreams midway through the first half, United’s bright start showed no signs of fading as the impressive Rashford harried Victor Moses off the ball and delivered a dangerous cross, which Begovic palmed away before anyone wearing red was able to pounce.
Young then dragged a low shot wide from the edge of the box after excellent work from Rashford and Paul Pogba in the build-up down the right flank, before another teasing cross by Rashford was almost headed into the back of his own net by Chelsea captain Gary Cahill, with the ball looping agonisingly on to the roof of the net.
The Reds created another opportunity to increase the lead just before the break when Rashford’s cross was cleared as far as Young, who fired waywardly over the crossbar at the end of a positive first half for United.
HALF-TIME MATCH STATS
Possession: United 59% Chelsea 41%
Shots: United 4 Chelsea 1
Shots on target: United 1 Chelsea 0
Corners: United 1 Chelsea 0
It got better for the Reds just four minutes into the second half, when Young did well to drive into the box after his initial cross was cleared by Luiz before laying the ball off to Herrera, whose low shot deflected off the boot of Kurt Zouma and wrongfooted Begovic to double the lead.
Brimming with confidence, United continued to push forward as Lingard curled a shot over the crossbar from the edge of the box from Rashford’s cutback, before the lively Rashford rifled an effort from the corner of the box into the side-netting and later cut in from the left to test Begovic at his near post from 12 yards.
On the hour mark, Michael Carrick entered the action for his 450th United appearance in all competitions, in place of Lingard, as the Reds, backed by vocal support from the terraces, showed excellent discipline and concentration to keep the Blues at arm’s length.
Chances were few and far between in the second half for both sides but Antonio Conte’s side, who had only previously lost four league games this season, rarely threatened throughout against the solid Reds defence, with De Gea largely untroubled on his return to the team.
In truth, United easily saw out a first win over Chelsea since 2012 to make it a memorable Easter and provide the perfect warm-up for another crucial encounter at Old Trafford next week, against Anderlecht in the second leg of the Europa League quarter-final.
FULL-TIME MATCH STATS
Possession: United 46% Chelsea 54%
Shots: United 9 Chelsea 5
Shots on target: United 3 Chelsea 0
Corners: United 1 Chelsea 3
United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Rojo, Darmian; Fellaini, Herrera; Young (c) (Fosu-Mensah 90+3), Pogba, Lingard (Carrick 60); Rashford (Ibrahimovic 82).
Subs not used: Romero, Blind, Shaw, Mkhitaryan.
Booked: Herrera, Rojo, Ibrahimovic.
Chelsea: Begovic; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses (Fabregas 54), Kante, Matic (Willian 66), Zouma (Loftus-Cheek 83); Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard.
Subs not used: Eduardo, Ake, Terry, Batshuayi.
Booked: Diego Costa, Cahill, Fabregas.