It was the first time that Manchester United fans felt able to hail a Jose Mourinho tactical masterclass, and thus far it remains the last.
Old Trafford on April 16 last year saw United halt the previous runaway train that Chelsea had been with a 2-0 victory.
The star men that day were: Ander Herrera, dynamic and tenacious in tackling everything in blue that breathed. Marcus Rashford, who ran the legs off Chelsea’s defence as a centre forward, and Paul Pogba, gliding with the ball in possession, harrying the opposition when he was without the ball.
The Frenchman looked every fibre the £89m man as his team, landlocked in sixth since November toppled the champions-elect.
“They showed more desire, more motivation, more ambition to win this game,” admitted Antonio Conte.
He will undoubtedly be pleased that United trio are markedly reduced forces as Chelsea return to Old Trafford on Sunday. Rashford last started a Premier League game on December 26, while Herrera damaged a hamstring on Wednesday.
Herrerra limping out of the Sevilla game set Mourinho on a familiar path, that of a collision course with his medical staff, but had a more immediate side effect in bringing Pogba off the bench to line up on the left of a midfield trio, his favoured position, after just 17 minutes of a tedious 0-0 draw.
With Herrera ruled out of Sunday and more weeks besides, Pogba is likely to start against Chelsea, no matter how fractured the relationship with his boss.
Even if Mourinho now talks of Scott McTominay as a favourite son, and barring the shock return of club captain Michael Carrick, the arch-pragmatist probably has to bite his tongue and play his social media superstar.
If Pogba plays like he did last April, then tough love has paid off.
Should the French star’s performances continue to plumb the depths, then Mourinho was right all along, win-win for him. And he needs some sort of victory at the moment, since United’s performances of the last month have been poor, giving rise to doubts from a fanbase that previously handed him their blessing.
The turf war with Pogba has been divisive and rumours of a summer departure for the midfielder have begun to bubble.
When he busted out of Manchester the first time around in 2012, it was to Juventus, a club Conte was in the process of reviving as Serie A’s dominant force.
It was under Conte that a leggy, raw stripling signed on a free transfer became a player that every one of Europe’s billionaire clubs wanted to sign.
Conte’s departure from Juve in the summer of 2014 was sudden, but he had already been the making of Pogba. Perhaps even harsher a disciplinarian than Mourinho, he did not treat the ingénue with kid gloves; when Pogba turned up late for training he was forced to sit out matches.
Tardiness for training is reported to be one of the sticking points in the current standoff between Pogba and Mourinho, but in Italy, the response to being censured was positive. Not at all coincidentally, he was enjoying his football.
Conte’s team favoured three central defenders with midfield bolstered by wing-backs and an additional preference for one of his strikers to drop into the melee. Pogba had freedom of expression, licence to burst into space, portfolio to go where he might fancy. Well, just as long as he was prepared to get through the dirty work that Conte demands voraciously from the sidelines.
“Conte has done nothing but push me,” said Pogba in the summer of 2013. “He has shown he is not afraid to give me a chance, and that age does not mean a thing.”
That was a barb aimed at Sir Alex Ferguson, whose refusal to select Pogba for the first team amid a Christmas 2011 midfield injury crisis has been depicted by the youngster’s camp as the final straw in his first tenure at United. United played Blackburn Rovers on New Year’s Eve with a starting midfield of Park Ji-Sung and Rafael da Silva and lost. And still no call came.
Eighteen months into “#Pogback”, as United’s social media gurus labelled his return, Pogba is again asking to be accommodated, this time as the left of a midfield trio. Mourinho has been resistant as he does not like his left-back, converted winger Ashley Young, exposed by Pogba’s flights of fancy and Alexis Sanchez’s lack of devotion to defence.
United’s manager builds teams around his own obsessions.
With Mourinho emboldened since landing a contract extension last month, he will not be for backing down. If Pogba wants to play like he once did for Conte or against him last year for United, then he either has to compromise or seek the exit.