David McGoldrick put in a stellar display, scoring his first and second Premier League goals of the season, as Sheffield United cruised to victory against Champions League hopefuls, Chelsea.
The Irish frontman finally broke his top-flight duck, his 42nd and 43rd shots of the season striking gold for Chris Wilder’s side. McGoldrick’s strikes, either side of an Oli McBurnie header, helped move the Blades up to sixth on Saturday night, keeping the dream of European football alive.
From back to front it was a complete performance from United, with every player stretching every sinew to block, tackle and pass their way to a comprehensive victory against an in-form Chelsea side. The resolute rear-guard of Sheffield United was greatly contrasted by the most brittle of Chelsea backlines.
Frank Lampard’s side was not only shambolic at the back but they were passive in attack, dominating the ball but with slow, meandering possession. Jorginho and Tammy Abraham were the only changes made by Lampard from their exhilarating 3-2 victory at Selhurst Park in midweek, but the Blues were a shadow of their former selves.
However, as much as Chelsea were poor, the Blades were truly brilliant, putting in one of their finest performances of the campaign thus far. United were sharper from minute one – first to every challenge and relentless in their pressing. George Baldock picked up an early booking for a foul on Pulisic but that very much set the tone.
Chelsea’s key players in recent weeks have been their wingers, Pulisic and Willian and yet the pair barely had an influence on the game, with Baldock and Stevens winning their duels brilliantly. Jorginho was the pace-setter for his side, although the tempo set was very much a tempo suited to a player making their first start since the Premier League returned.
A slow tempo leads to sloppy errors and in the 18th minute, Chelsea were punished for exactly that. Mason Mount surrendered possession cheaply, Oli McBurnie saw his deflected shot splendidly saved by Kepa and the rebound fell straight to McGoldrick who slammed home the opener. United were ahead in a flash.
Just 15 minutes later, their lead was doubled. Enda Stevens was allowed far too much time and space, he swung in a wicked delivery and Oli McBurnie, inexplicably free from the fragile shackles of Christensen and Zouma, smartly headed home. Half time. 2-0. The Blades were in total control – dominating the game out of possession.
After 45 minutes, Lampard had had enough. Mount and Christensen were hooked, replaced by Alonso and Rudiger, and Chelsea changed shape. Three centre backs, two wing-backs, a double pivot and the same front three. Similar to Wilder’s formation but not identical – the Chelsea manager hoped that his wing-backs could occupy their counterparts and the front three would find themselves directly up against the Blades back three.
The plan failed. Basham and O’Connell marshalled the opposition expertly, Baldock and Stevens were tireless in their tracking and breaking when possession was won, Berge and Osborn helped outnumber the Chelsea midfield, plugging gaps in the half-space where the Blues’ playmakers sought to operate. Then there was McGoldrick.
The Irishman, an ever-willing runner, knitted everything together. He helped lead the press with his strike partner and dropped deep to receive the ball when it was turned over, a spare man, free to spray the ball out to the flanks and relieve pressure on the defence. His man of the match performance was confirmed when he capitalised on a woeful clearance for Rudiger to bag his brace.
For Chelsea, the defeat means they risk falling out of the top four this weekend, with Leicester and Manchester United still to play. For Sheffield United, euphoria. Yes, the win keeps Europe a very real possibility but more than that, it provides yet another opportunity for the fans to bask in the glory of a season that has defied all expectations.
3-0 against five-time Premier League champions, 54 points after 35 games, the manager of the season. Above all, Sheffield United are making their fans proud.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Baldock, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Stevens; Norwood, Berge (Lundstram 63’), Osborn (L. Freeman 73’); McBurnie (Mousset 63’), McGoldrick. Subs not used: Moore, Robinson, Rodwell, Freeman, Zivkovic, Sharp.
Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, James (Hudson-Odoi 75’), Christensen (Rudiger 45’), Zouma, Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Barkley (Loftus-Cheek 78’), Mount (Alonso 45’), Willian, Abraham, Pulisic (Giroud 66’). Subs not used: Caballero, Bate, Kovacic, Batshuayi.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Bookings: Sheffield United: Baldock (3’)
Red Cards: Sheffield United: None
Scorers: Sheffield United: McGoldrick (18’, 77’), McBurnie (33’).
HT: 2 – 0
FT: 3 – 0
Man of the Match: David McGoldrick