Bramall Lane snares another as Sheffield United hit Chelsea's hopes of top-four finish

Defensive deficiencies of Frank Lampard's team exposed during crushing 3-0 defeat

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The surprise packages keep on surprising but this amounted to an unpleasant shock for Chelsea. Their defensive deficiencies were exposed and their hopes of a top-four finish endangered by an outstanding Sheffield United side.

Like Arsenal and Tottenham before them, Chelsea were beaten at Bramall Lane. They have only suffered one heavier defeat under Frank Lampard and if the scoreline was harsh in a 4-0 beating at Old Trafford, it was not here. Chelsea were demolished 3-0.

Depending on how Leicester and Manchester United fare, they could enter the final three games in fifth. It may amount to a precarious position for a club whose expensive ambitions are apparent in the signings of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech.

United, too, might be at a crossroads but with every win they take themselves further down the path that will lead to a maiden European trip. A different sort of journey was eventually concluded as, at 32 and after playing for nine clubs, David McGoldrick finally scored his maiden Premier League goal. And, after another hour, he scored a second.

This season’s odyssey alone had spanned 11 months, 26 games, 42 shots and 1616 minutes on the pitch when a personal duck was broken. Were Bramall Lane full, there would have been no more popular scorer than McGoldrick. As it is, there were still cheers when he opened his account.

Lampard sank back in his seat in disappointment when Oli McBurnie doubled the lead. Like the defeat at West Ham, this was another day to invite questions about Chelsea’s defending.

Had Lys Mousset’s late dinked shot, when Chelsea were caught on the counter-attack, gone just inside the post, they could have conceded 50 goals this season. The manner of the latest three was damning and, rather than pursuing Kai Havertz, they may be better off spending to bolster their rearguard. Lampard himself was outmanoeuvred by Chris Wilder and, in the second half, ended up copying Sheffield United’s tactics.

Chelsea had nevertheless begun the first half brightly. George Baldock was booked for fouling Christian Pulisic, whose dribbling can make him a marked man. When the American headed Reece James’ cross wide, it was the culmination of a 28-pass move.

Yet United show a refusal to be intimidated by more decorated opponents, imposed themselves on the game and reaped a reward.

For once, the deserving McGoldrick was in the right place at the right time when Kepa Arrizabalaga parried McBurnie’s deflected volley into his path. McGoldrick swept in the rebound.

It represented a very different type of goal to Wilfried Zaha’s long-range thunderbolt for Crystal Palace on Tuesday but another when Arrizabalaga’s role could be questioned. Chelsea must have hoped that £71 million (Dh329m) would buy them someone who would save rather more.

He was beaten again – most worrying, when he did not even dive – with a goal that was a product of United’s coaching and an indictment of Chelsea’s defending. Enda Stevens was freed by Ben Osborn with a one-two that took Reece James and Willian out of the game. Andreas Christensen failed to mark McBurnie and he scored an emphatic header.

McBurnie, who ran Tottenham ragged last week, continued his fine form of late and Osborn, whose season had only brought six substitute appearances, has been one of the stars of United’s summer, taking the chance John Fleck’s absence has afforded him. Stevens, meanwhile, had been one of the driving forces in Wednesday’s win over Wolves and showed the quality of his crossing again.

While James connected well with a shot that came through a crowded penalty area but Dean Henderson parried well, Chelsea did little else before the break. Lampard has been proactive in his use of substitutions since being allowed to make five and he hauled Mason Mount and Christensen off at half-time, switching system to 3-4-3.

A further rethink was required later. When Olivier Giroud was summoned midway through the second half, he almost scored with his first touch, an audacious volley. Then Chelsea applied more pressure. But, once again, Wilder made an influential change. On came Mousset and when the Chelsea replacement Antonio Rudiger made a mess of clearing his cross, McGoldrick scored his second. Game over.