Cole Palmer’s brilliant equaliser in his home city proved in vain as Chelsea succumbed to defeat at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening.
Palmer scored his first Blues goal from open play on the stroke of half-time, a perfectly placed and weighted effort. It cancelled out Scott McTominay’s volleyed opener, by which point Robert Sanchez had already saved a Bruno Fernandes penalty.
There were fewer clear chances in the second period, but it continued to be the hosts who looked the more threatening, and they secured the three points through McTominay’s second of the game with 20 minutes left.
Sub Armando Broja hit the post with a header very late on as we sought a second equaliser in a fixture in which there have been so many draws. Tonight would not be one of them.
Changes in personnel and shape
Mauricio Pochettino made two changes to the side that started against Brighton. Marc Cucurella returned after suspension and came in at right-back, so Axel Disasi moved infield as Benoit Badiashile dropped to the bench.
Mancunian Palmer was the choice to replace Conor Gallagher, serving a one-match ban. Our shape shifted to 4-2-3-1. Levi Colwill captained for the first time.
It was a frantic start at Old Trafford. Sanchez had already made a decent save to deny Rasmus Hojlund when he expertly kept out Fernandes’ spot-kick on nine minutes with a strong right hand. The VAR had advised the referee to overturn his initial decision after Enzo trod on Antony’s foot, long after the ball had gone.
Three minutes later, Palmer intercepted a Sofyan Amrabat pass deep in enemy territory. He released Mudryk, whose low shot hit the outside of Onana’s right-hand post from a tight angle.
It remained so open. Sanchez saved with his feet from Alejandro Garnacho, and we broke immediately but Mykhailo Mudryk couldn’t make the most of the counter-attack.
Antony had two efforts in quick succession, the first well held by Sanchez and the second brilliantly blocked by Thiago Silva much closer to our goal.
Punished at last
There was nothing Sanchez or Thiago could do about McTominay’s opener, though, as the midfielder emphatically volleyed home from near the penalty spot.
In the space of 60 seconds on the half-hour, both teams couldn’t believe they hadn’t scored. An unmarked McTominay headed too close to Sanchez from six yards out, and somehow our keeper held the Scot’s instinctive prodded rebound.
Suddenly, we were in. Sterling raced clear and squared to Jackson, who was thwarted by a sprawling Onana after opting to take an extra touch.
Mudryk was the next to see the whites of the United keeper’s eyes, slipping his shot just the wrong side of the post he had struck earlier.
Class from Cole
Those misses would not cost us going in level, however. Mudryk worked it to Palmer, and he drifted across the edge of the box before coolly placing the ball across Onana and into the bottom right-hand corner.
That was in the 45th minute and, somewhat surprisingly considering what had come before, the eight additional minutes were short of incident!
Both managers made a change ahead of play restarting. For us, Reece James replaced Cucurella.
The second half began at a more measured pace with both teams looking more assured in possession. Antony saw a shot from the edge of the box deflected just wide on the hour, before United restored their advantage on 69 minutes.
McTominay at the double
They had built up a head of steam and when Garnacho sent a teasing cross in, McTominay thundered his header past Sanchez from close range. Colwill felt he had been pushed over but VAR deemed the contact was not sufficient to intervene.
There was almost a repeat of what happened at St James’ Park when we went 2-1 down, as straight from kick-off a Sanchez pass was misplaced. Thankfully McTominay couldn’t capitalise.
Two further scares followed with Garnacho involved. First he raced clear onto an underhit James header back, only for our skipper to make amends with an exceptional recovery tackle. Next, the Argentinean international slid a presentable opportunity past Sanchez but also the far post.
Broja was brought on to try and made a difference and he nearly did just that in the 90th minute, heading a deep James cross against the woodwork. It was the closest we had come all half and would prove our final chance on a disappointing evening in Manchester.
What it means…
The Blues’ long wait for a win at Old Trafford, dating back to May 2013, goes on. We remain 10th in the Premier League table.
We are back in the North-West on Sunday afternoon, taking on Everton at 2pm.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Sanchez; Cucurella (James h/t), Disasi, Thiago Silva, Colwill (c); Caicedo, Enzo; Sterling, Palmer, Mudryk (Broja 77); Jackson
Unused subs Petrovic, Maatsen, Badiashile, Gilchrist, Matos, Castledine, Deivid Washington
Scorer Palmer 45
Man Utd (4-2-3-1): Onana; Dalot, Maguire, Lindelof (Reguilon h/t), Shaw; McTominay, Amrabat; Antony, Bruno Fernandes (c), Garnacho (Evans 90+2); Hojlund (Rashford 84)
Unused subs Bayindir, Wan-Bissaka, Pellistri, Mainoo, Van de Beek, Martial
Scorer McTominay 19, 69
Missed pen Fernandes 9 (saved)
Booked Shaw 15, Garnacho 22, Dalot 82, Reguilon 90+4
Referee Chris Kavanagh