Chelsea had to settle for a second 1-1 of the season against Manchester United despite dominating proceedings at Old Trafford.
The Blues had passed up several good openings before Marcos Alonso emphatically volleyed us in front on the hour, but our deserved advantage lasted just 119 seconds as Cristiano Ronaldo netted his maiden Premier League goal against us. Try as we might, a late winner proved elusive.
Kai Havertz had the best of our chances in the first half, twice denied by David De Gea. N’Golo Kante and the superb Reece James were also thwarted by the hosts’ keeper, who watched a succession of dangerous crosses evade blue shirts in front of him.
Alonso and Ronaldo traded goals on the hour but that proved the end of the scoring, so our eight-game winning run on the road is at an end, and our wait for a victory at Old Trafford, dating back to 2013, goes on. Late sub Juan Mata was the last Chelsea player to earn us three points here, even if Thomas Tuchel and his players will feel another left-footed Spaniard, Alonso, should have been the matchwinner tonight in what was a largely impressive Chelsea showing.
On the plus side, we are now eight points ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham with five league fixture to go. Next up is an another away game in the North-West, against Everton on Sunday.
Toni Rudiger and James returned to the Chelsea starting XI after injury, replacing Trevoh Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. James started at right wing-back, with Cesar Azpilicueta behind him captaining the Blues for the 200th time.
Otherwise it was the same side that started Sunday’s victory against West Ham. Kante and Jorginho continued in central midfield, and Alonso at left wing-back made his 150th Premier League appearance for us. In attack, Havertz and Mason Mount supported Timo Werner, although they were as interchangable as ever.
Man United made a solitary change from their loss at Arsenal, with Marcus Rashford coming in for Jadon Sancho, out with tonsillitis.
Sensing vulnerability among the hosts’ ranks, Chelsea set about asserting our authority from the off. In the opening 10 minutes we enjoyed an 80 per cent share of possession and completed 96 per cent of our passes, with most of the contest played in the United half.
However, that dominance did not translate to an early goal. James stung De Gea’s palms from range and then turned supplier, feeding Werner inside the box. He spun Victor Lindelof and from a narrowing angle fired straight at De Gea.
Some Kante ingenuity created space for Mount to move it quickly on to James behind him. He took a touch before shooting, Raphael Varane the man across to block the shot.
Any consideration it was all a bit too comfortable for Tuchel’s men ended in the 13th minute when Ronaldo miscued a scissor-kick from close range after we didn’t fully clear the first corner of the contest. Ronaldo’s wait for a first league goal against Chelsea would have to wait.
Chances coming and going
The upper hand remained ours. Kante was the next to shoot straight at De Gea, Jorginho having been allowed to waltz into the box unchallenged. Two clearer chances then came and went before the half-hour mark. On both occasions Kante released Havertz through on goal. With the German’s first attempt, he blasted into the side-netting on his weaker right foot, and with his next, a more presentable opening 60 seconds later, De Gea’s midriff got in the way.
We looked especially threatening down our right, with James imperious on his return to the team. A menace cutting in or staying wide and crossing, his next delivery picked out Havertz who did well to guide his header on target. Again, though, he met his match in De Gea.
Tuchel raised his arms to the sky once more. He had seen his team run the show in the first half without applying the decisive touch that could have seen us two or three in front.
Our lack of precision in the final third cost us again three minutes after the restart. Nemanja Matic had watched a dangerous cross of his own evade everyone when we broke at speed, three on two. Havertz opted to pass left, towards Kante, but it lacked the power to reach him before Bruno Fernandes intercepted.
Ahead at last but not for long
Where was this Chelsea goal coming from? The answer, which arrived on the hour, was the left boot of Alonso. James had the crowd purring with a touch out of the sky to stop Rashford breaking, and he soon got us on the front foot again. More neat interplay wide right ended with a cross Havertz flicked on. It dropped to Alonso at the far post, and his first-time volley was straight and true, whizzing past his compatriot and sparking pandemonium in the travelling supporters’ section of Old Trafford.
Frustratingly, all that hard work to get in front was thrown away inside two minutes. Our defence was caught a little out of shape and paid the price, Matic’s scooped pass finding Ronaldo. He took one touch before finishing emphatically beyond Edouard Mendy. 1-1.
The pattern of the game soon returned to its normal course. Tuchel mixed up his attack with 20 minutes to go, bringing on two of Sunday’s game-changers, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Pulisic. Werner and Havertz departed.
James had been tonight’s outstanding performer and so nearly got the goal he deserved with 10 minutes left. Kante slipped in Mount who cutely backheeled the ball knowing his wing-back was in space. James ran onto it and curled a left-footer against the post. More frustration!
It would prove the final clear chance of note, although United sub Alejandro Garnacho headed tamely at Mendy in stoppage time, and a couple of promising Blues counter-attacks amounted to nothing, rather summing up our luck in the final third.
A short trip west of Old Trafford awaits the Blues on Sunday when we meet Frank Lampard’s Everton at Goodison Park. Kick-off is at 2pm.
Chelsea (3-4-1-2): Mendy; Azpilicueta (c), Thiago Silva, Rudiger, James, Kante (Loftus-Cheek 82), Jorginho, Alonso, Mount, Havertz (Lukaku 70), Werner (Pulisic 71).Unused subs Kepa, Chalobah, Sarr, Saul, Kenedy, Ziyech.Scorer Alonso 60Booked Rudiger 87
Man United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Dalot, Lindelof, Varane, Telles; Matic (Jones 79), McTominay; Rashford (Mata 79), Fernandes, Elanga (Garnacho 75); Ronaldo.Unused subs Heaton, Henderson, Fernandez, Bailly, Hannibal Shoretire.Scorer Ronaldo 62
Referee Mike DeanCrowd 73564