MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) - Jose Mourinho hailed Romelu Lukaku’s ability to bounce back from a difficult start as the Belgian inspired a Manchester United fightback to beat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday (Feb 25).
Lukaku cancelled out Willian’s opener with his first United goal against top six Premier League opposition before crossing for Jesse Lingard to head home the winner 15 minutes from time.
“I think he played fantastically well,” said Mourinho on Lukaku’s performance.
“The team didn’t start well, didn’t start very confident, happened the same to him...he was a little bit lost but then he went together with the team.
“He ended the game with the image of a hand in the goal.”
Victory against his former club was particularly sweet for Jose Mourinho as he got one over on Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, but more importantly moves United back above Liverpool into second place in the Premier League.
“It’s a good day for me and we won so that’s the most important thing,” said Lukaku.
“To get the winner would have been even better for me, but to get the goal before half-time was really important for us. We showed our qualities and our desire in the second half.”
Defeat allied to Tottenham Hotspur’s late win earlier in the day at Crystal Palace sees Chelsea slip to fifth.
The visitors enjoyed the better of the first period but failed to build on Willian’s 32nd minute opener.
“For sure we missed by disappointed for the final result,” said Conte.
“Because when you have this type of situation you have to manage the game better with experience and maturity to get three points.”
The spectre of another fiery clash between Mourinho and Conte, who have publicly bickered in recent months, hogged the headlines before kick-off, but there was a peace offering when the pair shook hands before the action got under way.
Mourinho recalled Paul Pogba to his starting XI after dropping the £89 million (S$160 million) midfielder for Wednesday’s stalemate at Sevilla in the Champions League.
But it was one of Conte’s two changes from his side’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in midweek who nearly made an immediate impact.
Alvaro Morata started for the first time in six weeks, but saw his side-footed volley from Marcos Alonso’s driven cross come back off the bar just four minutes in.
UNITED CAUGHT OUT
For all Chelsea’s possession in the first period, it was from a blistering counter-attack they opened the scoring.
Willian picked up the ball just outside his own area and drove through the United midfield before exchanging passes with Eden Hazard.
The Brazilian then unleashed a shot too powerful even for David de Gea to register his fourth goal in three games.
The lead lasted just seven minutes, though, as for the first time in a United shirt, Lukaku netted against one of their top six rivals – at the seventh time of asking.
Aleixs Sanchez fed Anthony Martial and his clever reverse pass was slotted home by Lukaku to muted celebrations against his former club.
Lukaku nearly had a spectacular second 22 minutes from time when he caught a Sanchez cross flush with an acrobatic volley, only to be denied by a finger tip save from Courtois.
However, the Belgian did make a decisive contribution when he dropped deep and his in-swinging cross was met by a perfectly timed run by Lingard.
Conte had surprisingly removed Hazard just before conceding and that decision looked all the more puzzling as Chelsea searched in vain for an equaliser.
Willian saw another effort smothered by De Gea at the second attempt at his near post as United held out for just a second win over Chelsea in 15 meetings.