Manchester United booked their place in next season’s Champions League with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford.
Erik ten Hag’s men needed just a point to confirm a top-four finish and Casemiro settled any early nerves with a free header on six minutes to net his fourth league goal of the campaign.
Chelsea, who named their youngest-ever average starting XI in Premier League history, had some big moments in the final third in the first half but the profligacy that has blighted their season was evident once more with Mykhailo Mudryk, Kai Havertz and Conor Gallagher the main culprits.
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Manchester United suffered a blow just prior to the half-hour mark when Antony was stretchered off with just nine days until the FA Cup final, but they doubled their lead going into the interval when Anthony Martial tapped in Jadon Sancho’s unselfish pass.
Bruno Fernandes hit the woodwork and Casemiro fizzed inches wide as the hosts pushed for a third in the second period before Fernandes made completely sure of the win with a composed penalty on 73 minutes.
Substitute Marcus Rashford then took advantage of some shocking Chelsea defending to add a fourth five minutes later and snare his 30th goal of the season. Joao Felix added a consolation goal late on, but it mattered little.
The result sees the Red Devils move up to the third spot, two points ahead of Newcastle United in fourth, and effectively ends fifth-placed Liverpool’s slim hopes of gate-crashing the top four at the death.
Chelsea stays 12th and set a new club record with a 16th defeat in a 38-game Premier League season to compound finishing in the bottom half of the top flight for the first time in 27 years.
Manchester United ends the league season at home to Fulham on Sunday afternoon while Chelsea host Newcastle United.
Manchester United has to strengthen – Ten Hag
“This club belongs in the Champions League,” Ten Hag said.
“But it is not easy in the Premier League, it is tough. A lot compete for those positions – seven or eight teams. It is a massive performance when you get this done.
“We showed a winning attitude. You can see Chelsea has outstanding players. Counter-attacks were really good, really dangerous. We should have scored more. It is important to stay in the rhythm on Sunday. We can be third, so we want to keep the focus.
“We are in the right direction but we know we are still not there. 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.”
Speaking in the press conference afterward, Ten Hag stressed the next step is not just about further improvement on the training ground but will also be partially dependent on what Manchester United is able to do in the summer transfer window.
He said: “It is a good base to build on but standards have to go up and demands have to rise. We have to work in the summer with this squad but we also have to strengthen in the window with this squad.
“We want to compete for the title but it has to be realistic. It is what is there. Now, we are far away so there is a lot of work to do but we need better players if want to compete for the highest.”
Chelsea needs to reboot – Lampard
“It is a sign of where we are at,” Lampard said.
“You can go back to the start of the season. We don’t score goals enough. It’s clear, I get asked a lot why we play at back five at times. Some of the defending in the second half showed why we play a back-five.
“I am disappointed with that. You have to have pride and passion every time you play for this club. There are certain technical details you have to work on daily, to do all those standard things. Standards aren’t a casual statement.
“Any team that wins or consistently gets results in the Premier League has standards as a base. Without them, the tactics do not matter. Training well every day, trying to improve, and being a collective unit. There are variables – we have a big squad. It’s been hard for the coaches. I’ve lived that.
“It is a bad year for the club. We’ve had massive success over the past 20 years. We have to get to the bottom of how it improves. It needs a reboot. The club will move on in the summer in terms of how the squad looks.”