A Marcos Alonso goal on the stroke of half-time was enough for Chelsea to earn our first point away against one of the other ‘big six’ sides this season.
Juan Mata had given Manchester United an early lead in the game but unlike other similar tests this season, the Blues stayed strong and mounted a response which was rewarded when the home side’s goalkeeper David De Gea, who was already under much scrutiny coming into this game, failed to hold on to a Toni Rudiger shot and Alonso snapped up the chance.
Both sides lost players to injury in what was a fragmented second half. It was Rudiger who was forced off for the Blues but our defence, which had been given problems by Romelu Lukaku in the first 45 minutes, continued to contain the Belgian after the break and although we made few opportunities of our own, with the offside flag frequently thwarting centre-forward Gonzalo Higuain, we deserved this draw even if we were grateful for a late clearance off the line by Pedro.
In other seasons, today’s draw at Old Trafford might have been a set-back for a side attempting to finish in the top four but as the shaky form for all the sides around us continues, with Arsenal losing at Leicester earlier in the day, our destiny remains in our own hands.
We are fourth with two games left to play, two points ahead of the Gunners and three in front of today’s opponents. We have a better goal difference than both, considerably so in the case of United who will finish the season without a home win against any of the top six.
For our penultimate away league game, Maurizio Sarri was able to welcome Rudiger (initially) and Alonso back into his defence after their recent injuries but he has lost Callum Hudson-Odoi for the season. Willian rather than Pedro got the nod as the teenager’s replacement. In midfield, Mateo Kovacic was preferred to another of our younger players recently involved, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
He would have a big impact at the other end of the pitch much later in the half, but the returning Rudiger was caught out in the fourth minute by a long, high ball forward by Luke Shaw and a run behind him from Lukaku. The German got back to make it difficult for the Man United striker who still fired in a shot. Kepa, making his 50th Chelsea appearance, did well to stay up and pull off a good save.
Lukaku was one of three former Blues added to the home team’s line-up today with Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic also drafted in by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and it was Mata who gave his current side the lead in the 11th minute. Lukaku played a key part, with a clever lift over the top of our back-line. Left-back Shaw had made the run forward and pulled the ball back in front of goal from where Mata carefully placed a shot into our net.
Four minutes later, Eden Hazard set off on what was shaping up to be a promising run at the middle of the Man U rearguard until he was fouled by Ander Herrera – hardly the first time that has happened! Willian could not hit the target with the free-kick.
Jorginho was well off-target with an open-play attempt and later with a volley from a corner and Higuain had a shot blocked, but at least the Blues were on the front foot in our response to having gone behind so early.
It took some limpet-like defending by Cesar Azpilicueta, in good form today, to prevent Man United inflicting more damage from a counter-attack again involving Lukaku, and there was relief when Eric Bailly glanced a corner wide just before the half-hour mark.
Remarkably, referee Martin Atkinson did even stop the game for treatment for Azpi, let alone whistle up for an offence, when our skipper was the recipient of an elbow in the face from Matic as they both chased for a ball.
Herrera, back in the United team today, was booked for a foul on Alonso three minutes before half-time, a minute before we equalised. When Rudiger shaped up to try his luck from 35 yards he must have thought it more in hope than expectation but it was our first shot on target of the game. De Gea’s save was messy and Alonso picked up the pieces, finding the net with a skilful chip over his fellow countryman which went in off the far post. 1-1 at the break.
Kepa showed De Gea how it should be done shortly after the restart by safely pouching a powerful free-kick from Marcus Rashford before we picked up two bookings in quick succession. The first was for Willian for a ball-then-man challenge on Mata in the centre-circle, the second for Kovacic for booting the ball away after a foul.
Kovacic fouled Herrera soon after and it looked as if the Croatian’s game was soon to be at an end with Loftus-Cheek ready to come on, but then Rudiger went down. For the second away league game running, big Toni had to come off early and in pain. So instead Andreas Christensen was the substitute used. Man United also lost one of their centre-backs, Bailly, to injury.
Loftus-Cheek did eventually come on but more treatment was needed, this time for Willian who was on the end of a nasty challenge by Man U sub Marcos Rojo.
Before the end, Hazard had a shot blocked which would have been interesting had it found a gap in the defence, and Pedro headed Rojo’s header off the line. The earlier injuries meant we had to negotiate seven minutes of added time but we succeed and in fact came the closer to snatching it at right at the end when Higuain timed his run well but the angle was tight and De Gea blocked his effort.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger (Christensen 65), David Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic (Loftus-Cheek 75), Willian (Pedro 84), Higuain, Hazard.
Unused subs Caballero, Zappacosta, Barkley, Giroud.
Scorer Alonso 43
Booked Willian 52, Kovacic 54
Man United (4-3-1-2): De Gea; Young (c), Bailly (Rojo 71), Lindelof, Shaw; Herrera, Matic, Pogba; Mata (McTominay 81); Rashford (Sanchez 65), Lukaku.
Unused subs Romero, Pereira, Darmian, Martial.
Scorer Mata 11
Booked Herrera 43, Rojo 80, Young 89
Referee Martin Atkinson