Sheffield United put Europa League firmly in sight with another brilliant victory
If anyone did, a brilliant performance to sweep aside the Europa League holders, a team with high hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League but no real cushion to sit back on, proved it.
European football is what the west London aristocrats are geared towards, and have been from the moment Roman Abramovich first opened his chequebook at Stamford Bridge.
South Yorkshire is not supposed to be a venue for Europa League matches – it never has been before – but with their dodgy restart a distant memory, it is starting to look like it will. While Chelsea sweat on Leicester City and Manchester United's games in hand dropping them out of the top five, the Blades put pressure on Wolverhampton Wanderers for the second time in a week.
Wolves and Arsenal have just four games left to usurp the upstarts, the Blades have three to cement their position.
They showed all their usual defensive qualities, energetically getting back in numbers to make sure that despite Chelsea's 76 per cent possession in the opening 45 minutes, Dean Henderson's biggest first-half worry – a Reece James shot apart – was the sun he wore a cap against.
Even with his side 3-0 up with minutes to go, substitute and old man of the team Phil jagielka was still throwing himself in the way of a shot from young tyro Tammy Abraham. The Blades substitutes showed their approval with enthusiastic applause.
But you do not get to be sixth in the Premier League on that alone.
That is where the Blades sit this evening.
Stay there and it will not matter which way Manchester City's appeal against a two-year European ban goes or who wins the FA Cup, they will be playing continental cup football for the first time in their history regardsless.
Chelsea might have been the prettier of the two teams on the ball, but all three of the goals scored by the effective hosts were beautifully crafted as they once more showed how good they are from crossing positions.
David McGoldrick, without a league goal since Easter 2019 scored two, Oii McBurnie the other.
Ben Osborn's gorgeous turn came early enough in the build-up to the opening goal to be overlooked but the ball was played out to the right, where George Baldock picked McBurnie out with a cross. Kepa Arrizabalaga did really well to adjust and stretch to keep out a volley which deflected twice, but all he could do was pat the ball up for a tap-in McGoldrick snaffled.
The striker had been talking in the lead-up to the match about his lack of a maiden Premier League goal was preying on his mind, but the delight on his face was matched by that of team-mates who recognise his true value to this exceptional footballing unit.
There was a reason he had been rushed back into the side which beat Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday as soon as he recovered from a foot injury.
After 34 minutes, Enda Stevens played a good one-two with Osborn and delivered a pinpoint cross which allowed McBurnie, who had held off while Andreas Christensen was attracted to the ball, to thump a header into the corner of the net.
Many a Chelsea move foundered because the chink they were looking for in Sheffield United's armour was not there. Henderson's first save from an awkward James shot from distance, was his first of a game that was 43 minutes old. Christian Pulisic had run off the back of Baldock onto an excellent James cross after seven minutes, but missed the target.
Rather than sit on their lead, the Blades looked to add to it after the interval, when Chelsea became the latest club to pay them the compliment of switching to three central defenders.
An excellent move saw McGoldrick release Chris Basham with another exquisite touch from a McBurnie pass. Osborn was just unable to reach the central defender's wickedly-curling cross, beaten to it by James.
"George! Georgie! George! Georgie! Quicker!" demanded Chris Wilder when he finally got Baldock's attention., and he gave his team greater speed on the counter-attack by introducing Lys Mousset. It was incredibly harsh for McBurnie to make way, but the same would have been true for McGoldrick – the tactics came first.
They paid off too, Mousset getting to the byline to produce a cross which delivered another McGoldrick tap-in, gratefully received. With 12 minutes to go, another big scalp was in the bag.
They even wasted the chance for a fourth, McGoldrick playing the Frenchman through, only for him to dink wide of both Arrizabalaga and the goal.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham (Jagielka 68), Egan, O'Connell; Baldock, Berge (Lundstram 63), Norwood, Osborn, Stevens; McGoldrick, McBurnie (Mousset 63).
Not used: Sharp, K Freeman, Robinson, Moore, Rodwell, Zivkovic.
Chelsea: Arrizabalaga; James (Hudson-Odoi 75), Christensen (Rudiger46), Zouma, Azpilicueta; Barkley (Loftus-Cheek 78), Jorginho, Mount (Alonso 46); Willian, Abraham, Pulisic (Giroud 65).
Not used: Caballero, Kovacic, Batshuayi, Bate.
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).
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