Our seven-game winning streak came to an end in the Carabao Cup with two Marcus Rashford set-pieces doing the damage at Stamford Bridge.
Rashford scored a penalty midway through the first half to put Manchester United 1-0 up, and while we offered little before the break we came out all guns blazing after it. A couple of good chances were not taken, but on the hour Michy Batshuayi levelled with a superb goal that was all his own doing.
A close game could have gone either way, but it was the brilliance of Rashford that won it for the visitors as he smashed in an unstoppable 30-yard free-kick with a little over a quarter-of-an-hour left.
The Blues, who featured a number of Academy graduates tonight, battled hard until the end but an equaliser would not come, so our Carabao Cup journey ends at the fourth round stage. The chance to get that winning feeling back comes at Watford on Saturday.
As against Grimsby in round three, Marc Guehi and Billy Gilmour started, as did Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Jorginho captained for the first time, Christian Pulisic kept his place after his Burnley heroics, and Batshuayi was selected in attack.
A new face on our bench was 19-year-old Tariq Lamptey.
The visitors named a strong team, with just three changes to the side that started at Norwich on Sunday. One of those coming in was 19-year-old Brandon Williams.
This latest cup meeting between Chelsea and Man United started at a quick tempo, perhaps unsurprising considering the amount of speedy players on display.
Scott McTominay was late challenging Mateo Kovacic on 11 minutes and was booked. A couple of minutes later the same man fired wide of Willy Caballero’s left-hand post from a low corner.
Batshuayi was then carded, this time McTominay on the receiving end of a tardy tackle on halfway.
On 24 minutes, Marcos Alonso’s short pass to Kovacic was intercepted near the touchline. McTominay flicked it to Daniel James who had space to run in to, and as he entered the box Alonso, trying to rectify his mistake, was deemed to have brought the winger down. The contact was minimal but penalty was the decision, and Rashford sent Caballero the wrong way from 12 yards.
After a bright start we had struggled to find any rhythm in the final third against three solid centre-backs. Hudson-Odoi was our brightest outlet, wide on the right flank, and a couple of his deliveries before the break were briefly threatening. But when the half-time whistle blew, we had yet to register a shot on target.
It was a painful beginning to the second half for Hudson-Odoi as he clattered into the advertising hoardings and tumbled into the East Lower.
Happily, he was okay to play on after treatment, and he should have equalised shortly afterwards with easily our best chance yet. Alonso had space to deliver low but Hudson-Odoi could only shoot wide from six yards out.
Then Gilmour led a charge from midfield and after his attempted pass to Hudson-Odoi was cleared back to him by Williams, his subsequent shot was well blocked by Marcos Rojo. As Chelsea’s pressure intensified, Pulisic dragged an effort wide and James whipped a delicious cross beyond everyone.
The Blues had offered more in the opening stages of the second half that we had in the entirety of the first. Our next chance came in the 57th minute, a clever curled Pulisic pass releasing Hudson-Odoi, who let it bounce before thumping a sweetly-struck effort a yard or two over Sergio Romero’s bar.
So there was no question our equaliser on the hour had been coming! From a long Caballero punt, Batshuayi won the first header ahead of Harry Maguire, and then reacted quickest to collect the loose ball. He charged inside Maguire and from 20 yards smashed a pinpoint drive into the bottom right-hand corner.
It was a superb individual goal, and just reward for a rejuvenated collective performance.
With 20 minutes left, Frank Lampard freshened his team up with a pair of subs. Pedro replaced Pulisic, and Mount came on for young Gilmour, who had enjoyed another fine showing in a hotly-contested midfield.
Our visitors retook the lead three minutes later. It was an extraordinary strike, too, Rashford’s 30-yard free-kick swinging both ways and dipping under the crossbar giving Caballero no chance. Could the Blues find the answer again?
James and Pedro combined to nearly do so, and then Tammy Abraham came on for Batshuayi.
Ten minutes remained when Hudson-Odoi found Alonso, whose shot from a tight angle was funnelled to safety by Romero. Zouma headed the resulting corner wide.
As the clock ticked down, Man United sat deep and defended their box effectively. The Blues tried to muster a final opening, but it wasn’t forthcoming and our exit was confirmed.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Caballero; James, Guehi, Zouma, Alonso; Gilmour (Mount 70), Jorginho (c), Kovacic; Hudson-Odoi, Batshuayi (Abraham 78), Pulisic (Pedro 70).
Unused subs Cumming, Azpilicueta, Lamptey, Giroud.
Scorer Batshuayi 61
Booked Batshuayi 18, Kovacic 90
Man United (5-2-2-1): Romero; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof (Martial 66), Maguire (c), Rojo, Williams; McTominay, Fred; Lingard (Pereira 67), James; Rashford (Young 80).
Unused subs Grant, Jones, Garner, Mata.
Scorer Rashford (pen) 25, 73
Booked McTominay 11, Fred 83
Referee Paul Tierney