The Blues’ quest for two away wins in a week to strengthen our claim for a top-four slot stumbled on Saturday evening in South Yorkshire, with the home side securing a 2-0 lead by half-time which they added to late in the game.
The Blades, who themselves are in the shake-up for European places and in good recent form, took the lead through David McGoldrick who netted his first Premier League goal of the season in what was his 25th appearance up front, but while there was a touch of misfortune for Chelsea in how that goal came about, with Kepa sharp when initially keeping out a heavily deflected effort but powerless for the tap-in, the second goal was defensively poor. Oli McBurnie headed home having escaped his markers.
A Reece James shot that was saved and a Pulisic header at the far post that missed the target were the best Chelsea attempts before the interval, and we fared little better after the break with substitute Olivier Giroud going closest. Defeat was confirmed when McGoldrick scored his second of the game from similar range to his first.
It was a Chelsea performance that never really got going, and a game when some of our stars since the restart could not hit the recent heights, but credit to Sheffield United who denied the Blues space and had players in the right places when it counted.
Frank Lampard made two changes from the team that started the win at Palace. One was enforced with Jorginho coming in for Billy Gilmour who had surgery yesterday. The other was upfront where the scorer of the third goal on Tuesday replaced the scorer of the first – Tammy Abraham preferred to Olivier Giroud today, with the boss explaining before kick-off he wanted the younger striker’s movement to pull around the strong United defence. By the end of the game both centre-forwards were paired up front.
Before kick-off there was a silence for England World Cup winner Jack Charlton whose passing was announced earlier in the day. The big centre-half of course had some immense contests with Chelsea when Leeds played our famous side of the 1960s and 1970s.
Blades stick the knife in
The first 15 minutes of today’s game were pretty even. Barkley skimmed a shot across the turf that was on target but lacked power and Pulisic’s threat earned the home side a very early booking (the only one of the game) when he was chopped down by George Baldock. For the home side, Ben Osborn shinned a shot well over after Kepa had punched a corner out to the edge of the area.
With seven minutes gone Pulisic had his first chance to score when James drilled one of his trademark curling crosses over to the far post. Baldock made it difficult for the American who could not keep his header on target.
Chelsea continued to press forward but our crossing let us down on a couple of occasions so instead it was our opponents who took the lead, with 17 minutes played.
A Blades throw-in put our goal under pressure and the problems intensified when Sander Berge wrestled the ball away from Mason Mount as he tried to run it out of the box. A cross found McBurnie unmarked but although Kepa did very well to keep out the no.9’s deflected volley, David McGoldrick was there to score from close range.
For the next period of the game, the Blues had plenty of the ball in the Sheffield United half and moved it around at a good tempo, but it was clear the South Yorkshire side were very well-organised at the back.
There were 32 minutes played when the deficit was doubled and it was a poor goal to concede. There were plenty of Chelsea players over on our right but Enda Stevens escaped with a one-two to cross to where McBurnie had a free header. It was not wasted as he planted it into the bottom corner.
After that it looked to be opening up for the Blues when Abraham laid a ball off for Pulisic but he was crowded out.
Shortly before half-time, James hit a shot well which Dean Henderson could only push out but in contrast to the United opener, the loose ball did not fall to the attacking side.
Shape shifted for second half
Back in August, Sheffield United were 2-0 down against Chelsea at half-time at Stamford Bridge, which was the interval score today, and they escaped with a draw. Could Frank Lampard’s side turn the tables like that today?
For the attempt the boss made two half-time changes, with Toni Rudiger replacing Christensen and Marcos Alonso on for Mount, as the formation changed to more closely match our opponents’ 3-5-2.
Barkley won a free-kick which he took and rifled into the wall, and Pulisic had a shot in open play blocked by a red-and-white striped shirt before Lampard made a further switch, bringing on Giroud for Pulisic so that out-and-out strikers filled the front-two positions.
Giroud was not far away from the target with his first-touch, a dropping ball that he half-volleyed wide.
Azpi hit a shot that was deflected wide as the game entered the final 20 minutes and from the corner that resulted, which was flicked on by Rudiger, both Giroud and then Abraham were close to turning it in.
We were not having the rub of the green and any lingering hope disappeared when United made it 3-0 with 77 minutes played. This time the cross came in low from the opposition right, Lys Mousset the deliverer. Rudiger was first to it but could not clear and McGoldrick had his second of the game.
It could have been worse had Mousset not lifted the ball wide when one-on-one with Kepa after a Sheffield United break.
Goals go missing
Prior to this game Chelsea had scored two or more goals in 10 of our last 11 Premier League games, and we were the Premier League’s top scorers away from home, but scoring chances were few at Bramall Lane. No surprise only Liverpool and Manchester City have conceded fewer home Premier League goals than the Blades.
The race for the top four
We remain in third place, one point ahead of Leicester City and two in front of Manchester United but both now have a game in hand over us. Leicester play away at Bournemouth tomorrow. Man United host Southampton on Monday.
Another three-day gap, the new normal when it comes to fixture spacing, before we host Norwich at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening. The Canaries relegation was confirmed by their big defeat by West Ham today.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; James (Hudson-Odoi 75), Zouma, Christensen (Rudiger h-t), Azpilicueta (c); Barkley (Loftus-Cheek 78), Jorginho, Mount (Alonso); Willian, Abraham, Pulisic (Giroud 66).
Unused subs Caballero, Bate, Kovacic, Batshuayi.
Sheff Utd (3-5-2): Henderson; Basham (Jagielka 68), Egan, O’Connell; Baldock, Berge (Lundstram 63), Norwood (c), Osborn, Stevens; McBurnie (Mousset 63), McGoldrick.
Unused subs Moore, Freeman, Robinson, Rodwell, Zivkovic, Sharp.
Scorers McGoldrick 18,77, McBurnie 33
Booked Baldock 3
Referee Andre Marriner