Another miserable away day in the top-six for Manchester United. No parking of the bus this time. They were simply not good enough, which is perhaps even more damning.
Yes they gave it the lash late on, United’s go-to firefighter Marouane Fellaini forcing Thibaut Courtois into a save, no less. Only his second of the match. It shouldn’t have mattered. Chelsea might have been long gone by then, David De Gea once again giving the goals-against column a more decent look than United’s performance deserved.
There was zip De Gea could have done to keep out Alvaro Morata’s stonking header early in the second half, which is more than can be said for the United centre-backs, all three of whom contrived to be nowhere near the Chelsea marksman, who smeared the ball in hair gel such was the force with which he met Cesar Azpilicueta’s excellent cross.
By increments the Premier League table is shaking out, the teams finding their level. For now United remain best of the rest on goal difference from Spurs but after 11 games they are closer to Burnley than the imperious Manchester City.
When Chelsea cranked the handle after the break United fell away. Henrikh Mkhitaryan symbolises the soft centre and failed vision, a talented player utterly incapable of engaging with anything like the necessary intent.
Compare United’s notional No 10 to the real thing. Eden Hazard demanded the ball and drove at the United defence all game. His shot in the first half, cutting in from the right and letting fly with his left, brought the absolute best out of De Gea.
This is the very turf where City showed what they were about, bullying Chelsea into submission. If that was the day City told us how very good they are, this was the afternoon United showed how far off they remain.
Chelsea did not have to be outstanding to win, just better. And this was a team supposedly in crisis after defeat by Roma in the Champions League. The return of N’Golo Kante stiffened the Chelsea proposition no end, allowing Cesc Fabregas and Hazard freedom to roam. Hazard fired straight at De Gea and Morata fell over his own feet when it was easier to score. Had they, it would not have flattered Chelsea. Mourinho, with some justification, singled out Fellaini for special praise, though he was way off with his estimation that a point would have been just.
Though in the last half hour United had Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku on the field, the truth is, without Paul Pogba, their midfield is a finesse free zone.
Only the excellent Nemanja Matic is of the required standard. Ander Herrera was unable to assist in any meaningful way, despite running about a lot and conveying a sense of being busy.
United’s best moment came on 15 minutes while the teams were still playing chess. Courtois was equal to it, diving to his right to beat away a powerful Lukaku strike.
Mourinho admitted to concern at the gap to City but hoped the concentration of games after the international break might help. “We are worried about the gap but there are 18 teams more worried than us,” he said.
“Eight points is not same as in La Liga or the Bundesliga. In the Premier League there is still a lot to play for. I hope, I think that in the busy period in late November, December and January we are going to be at maximum strength with Pogba, Ibra, Rojo back so we can be in a fight.”