MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United are back in the Champions League after a 4-1 win over Chelsea at Old Trafford on Thursday night secured a top-four finish in the Premier League. Needing only a point to be sure of a return to Europe’s top club competition with a game to spare, Casemiro, Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford scored the goals as Chelsea fell to their ninth defeat in their past 12 games.
Casemiro’s header and Martial’s close-range finish put United 2-0 up at half-time before Fernandes converted a penalty and Rashford, on as a substitute for Antony, got a fourth in the second half. Joao Felix got a late consolation for the visitors.
The only downside for Erik ten Hag was an injury to Antony, who had to be stretchered off in the first half and will be an early doubt for the FA Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley on June 3 (10 a.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).
1. United qualify for the Champions League
A top-four finish was the minimum requirement for Ten Hag when he took the United job last summer, and he has delivered it. There have been times this season when Champions League football looked like it might be slipping away, but it will be back at Old Trafford next season and the Dutch manager deserves credit for getting the job done.
United have won 40 games in all competitions for just the fifth season in their history, and it’s now 29 games unbeaten at Old Trafford. Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and now Chelsea have all been beaten here, and the Red Devils haven’t lost a home game in the league since August. Old Trafford is a fortress again.
Ten Hag will have to deal with increased expectations next season, and the aim will have to be a sustained title challenge, but he can be satisfied that his first campaign in charge will go down as a success. A trophy, a place in the top four and the chance to win more silverware in the FA Cup final is more than many fans expected this season. The first part of Ten Hag’s rebuild has been completed but, as Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer both found out, the next step is the most difficult.
2. Casemiro gets Man United over the line
United looked like a team in need of inspiration after back-to-back defeats to Brighton & Hove Albion and West Ham United risked their place in the top four, and fortunately for Ten Hag, Casemiro was able to provide it. The Brazilian midfielder has been one of the players of the season at Old Trafford since his summer arrival from Real Madrid, and at the business end of a gruelling season, he has chipped in with some crucial goals. He scored in the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle United in February as the Red Devils lifted their first trophy since 2017, and with Champions League football on the line, he stepped up again.
He scored the only goal in the 1-0 win over AFC Bournemouth on Saturday with an acrobatic volley to put United on the brink of a top-four finish, and needing only a point against Chelsea, he scored the first after just six minutes with a clinical header from Christian Eriksen‘s free kick. He then set up the second with a wonderful no-look flick in to Jadon Sancho, who crossed for Martial to score.
Casemiro is due a bump up in wages now that United have secured their return to the Champions League, and Ten Hag will think it’s worth every penny.
3. Lampard trying to look to the future
This season has been an unmitigated disaster for Chelsea — there is no other way of putting it. They will finish in the bottom half of the Premier League table for the first time in 27 years, while the result at Old Trafford also set a new club record of 16 defeats in a 38-game Premier League season. The only good news for Chelsea fans is that, surely, it has to get better next season.
Caretaker boss Frank Lampard won’t be here beyond the summer, but against United, he tried to show prospective new manager Mauricio Pochettino that there is hope for the future. Lampard fielded Chelsea’s youngest-ever Premier League XI and picked just the third team in Premier League history to include at least nine players under the age of 24.
Left-back Lewis Hall was the pick of the bunch. The 18-year-old used the ball well, got forward when he could and wasn’t afraid to defend one-on-one against Antony and then Sancho. He should be part of the first-team squad next season.
This was another miserable night for Chelsea during a forgettable campaign of mismanagement and underachievement. You have to look hard, but there is the odd reason to be hopeful.
Best and worst performers
Casemiro, Manchester United: Scored United’s first goal and set up the second with a brilliant ball into Sancho.
Lewis Hall, Chelsea: It was another disappointing night for Chelsea, but Hall can be happy with his own performance.
Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United: Won and then scored his penalty before setting up Rashford for United’s fourth goal as Chelsea capitulated.
Kai Havertz, Chelsea: Got caught under the ball for Casemiro’s goal and missed a golden chance of his own with a header that flashed wide.
Anthony Martial, Manchester United: Got on the scoresheet with a tap-in but he looked off the pace.
Mykhailo Mudryk, Chelsea: Fluffed a great opportunity to put Chelsea in front and gave the ball away too often.
Highlights and notable moments
It only took six minutes for Casemiro and United to build an insurmountable lead over visiting Chelsea.
For the second week in a row, Casemiro opens the scoring early for Manchester United!
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) May 25, 2023
Fernandes and United made their 4-0 win over Chelsea look like a walk in the park.
BRUNO NUTMEGS FOFANA, WINS THE PENALTY AND PUTS IT AWAY ???? pic.twitter.com/XkiTsf5NAB
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 25, 2023
After the match: What the managers and players said
Fernandes: “[Qualifying for the Champions League] is decent; it’s not perfect because we want more. For what we did this season, it’s perfect. We get the trophy, which was our goal after seeing we couldn’t get the Premier League. Now it’s about finishing the league well and going to FA Cup.”
Ten Hag: “We are back in the Champions League. That is an important step. If you want to be successful, you have to be in that competition.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Casemiro has now scored in consecutive matches for the first time since 2017 for Real Madrid.
– Fernandes now has 15 penalty-kick goals for Man United in the Premier League, breaking a tie with Cristiano Ronaldo and Eric Cantona for the third most in club history. Only Wayne Rooney (19) and Ruud van Nistelrooy (18) have more.
– Rashford is the fist Manchester United player to score 30 goals in a single season across all competitions since Robin van Persie did so in the 2012-13 season (30).
Manchester United: The curtain will come down on United’s Premier League campaign on Sunday, when Fulham make the trip up to Old Trafford.
Chelsea: The Blues’ miserable season will mercifully end on Sunday as they play host to Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge.