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Eye On EPL

Master stroke to cut off Blues' supply line

The analogy is simple: If you cut the link from the engine to the car, it simply will not perform.

This applies to football teams as well. And a prime example was Sunday's crunch English Premier League clash between Manchester United and Chelsea.

The 2-0 final score did not flatter Jose Mourinho's men; in fact, they were surprisingly dominant against the league leaders, who repeatedly found themselves swarmed by a sea of red jerseys breathing down their necks for the entire match.

This is where Mourinho's tactical acumen showed, as his man-marking tactics stifled the Blues, especially at where their engine room is - Eden Hazard.

The Belgium playmaker has netted 14 goals and provided five assists in the league this season. More importantly, he gives Chelsea flair - the defence-splitting passes and the confident dribbling that opponents find a nightmare to stop.

Mourinho had tried to curtail the 26-year-old when both teams met in last month's FA Cup quarter-finals. However, Ander Herrera's dismissal after persistently fouling Hazard led to a 1-0 defeat.

The 2-0 final score did not flatter Jose Mourinho's men... This is where Mourinho's tactical acumen showed, as his man-marking tactics stifled the Blues so effectively at where their engine room is - Eden Hazard.

Weeks later, and Mourinho's second shot at clamping his former club's key player worked brilliantly, with the engine-less Chelsea having zero shots on target.

Mourinho prepared the team very well - closing down the Chelsea players extremely quickly, forcing them to make wayward passes, and intercepting the ball in the middle of the park.

The more I watched the game, the more I wondered where Hazard or Diego Costa were, such was their anonymity in the game.

Some may argue that a top player like Hazard should have worked his way around the situation. He ought to have drawn Herrera away from his position, and another player could have used that space to act as the playmaker.

Yet I'm sure whatever position he had played on Sunday, Herrera would have been breathing down his neck.

And every footballer hates to be man-marked. I was kicked around and jumped on by a Thai defender in the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup final. All match long, I was hoping that my man-marker would get a yellow card so that he would tone down his tackling.

But with the theatrical antics of players these days, it is not easy for the referee to make the decision. Herrera was given a yellow in the later half of the game but by then, Hazard had simply disappeared.

In just one game, the mood of the Premier League has changed drastically. Everyone is fighting for something.

Tottenham Hotspur are closer than ever to Chelsea. Liverpool are well on their way to securing Champions League qualification as they continue their winning ways, and United are slowly but surely making their move into the top four.

With six more games to go, the fight at the top will be as bloody as ever.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2017, with the headline 'Master stroke to cut off Blues' supply line'. Print Edition | Subscribe