Manchester United took a point from Stamford Bridge, after a game they didn’t deserve to lose with a performance that said they didn’t deserve to win.
Caretaker Michael Carrick made headline-grabbing selections, most notably dropping Cristiano Ronaldo as he went for an ultra-defensive shape – but came fairly close to an unlikely win against the league leaders.
Twice in the first three minutes De Gea was called upon, first to deny Ziyech and then, more importantly, to deny Hudson-Odoi following some poor defending from Wan-Bissaka and Lindelof.
The pattern of the game was Chelsea having the ball and United playing deep as they tried but were unable to get to grips with their new formation of 4-3-3 and Fernandes as a false nine.
On the half hour, Rudiger hit a shot from 25 yards which smashed against the United bar. Fernandes, meanwhile, was playing like a false two or three, covering in full-back areas and not particularly doing it well – one poor clearance almost presented another good opening.
The second half started in similar fashion – but, as Chelsea pressed high in the 50th minute, Bruno Fernandes hoofed the ball clear from that left-back area. Jorginho, usually so composed in possession, slipped on the halfway line – leaving Sancho and Rashford clean through on goal. For a moment it seemed as though there was too much time – but Sancho kept his cool to slide the ball in and give his side an unbelievable lead.
All of a sudden, the end seemed to justify the mean – for all their pressure, Chelsea hadn’t had United on their ropes, and it is hard to see Ronaldo pressing opportunistically to seize the moment like Sancho did.
With a lead to protect, Sancho picked up a knock – and so Ronaldo came on for him just after the hour mark.
United, who had defended so well, then switched off, as they are prone to do – Wan-Bissaka tried to swipe the ball clear from a corner, but only connected with the calf of Thiago Silva. Penalty. Jorginho took the kick – and atoned for his earlier error, sending De Gea the wrong way to level the scores.
After both teams made changes, Chelsea had a great chance to take the lead – Werner was clean through, and pulled the trigger, but Wan-Bissaka did well to pull off a late block. Werner was promptly replaced by Romelu Lukaku.
The hosts applied all the pressure in the late stages with apparently the only chance United had of snatching a second goal was to get a similar slice of luck to the opener. Inexplicably, it came – Mendy miskicked the ball to Fred, but the Brazilian made a complete mess of a wonderful opportunity, hitting a weak effort when Lingard and Ronaldo were in strong positions. It was such a shame, as the Brazilian had played so well, but his lack of quality when it mattered is likely to sum up his United career.
Chelsea had one big chance when Rudiger blazed over with the last kick of the game – but United could feel they’d done enough to earn a share of the spoils.
Carrick picked what looked on paper to be a pragmatic team. United fans have been used to this since Mourinho first took us to Anfield – it’s been that pattern for years, even if under Solskjaer there was usually some attempt to engineer strong counter attacks, which often resulted in important wins. It’s been reactive rather than proactive since the summer of 2016.
There will hopefully come a time under the new manager when we are able to approach these games with the emphasis on taking the game to the opponent and dominating them. That time wasn’t today – which is fair enough.
But dropping Ronaldo and picking a spine (somewhat forced, it has to be said) that had a spine comprised of Mourinho-era players did not inspire much confidence in many. Fred was great, and McTominay was not far behind, but Chelsea rarely looked like significantly troubling an organised side despite how the numbers might make the game look.
Sancho’s goal made it look like a masterplan for a ten minute spell – the penalty reminded all that the away goal had come from a stroke of luck.
Carrick earned praise for the timing and choice of his substitutes in midweek. Ronaldo was on with 30 minutes to play and Lingard came on with thirteen to play for Rashford. Van De Beek came on with moments left. Perhaps Sancho’s withdrawal had the biggest impact on United’s threat – but the visitors can be happy with the result.
De Gea 7
Van De Beek
— United Goals ⚽️ (@UnitedGoals__) November 28, 2021