The Blues’ final away game of the season and second match in a row in Manchester ended in defeat when two goals conceded before half-time were followed by two more late in the game, before Joao Felix netted a fine consolation.
As against Man City on Sunday, we went behind early in the game when Casemiro headed in a free-kick and although the lead was extended, we had the chances to have at least been level at the interval.
Fielding what at 23 years and 238 days was the youngest Chelsea team in the Premier League era, the Blues could have taken the lead ourselves but one of those youthful players, Mykhailo Mudryk, shot wide having been fed by another, Lewis Hall, who was selected for the third game in a row.
The 18-year-old also created a first-half chance for Kai Havertz, and Conor Gallagher went close, before Man United made the score 2-0 through Anthony Martial.
Though the home side hit the woodwork soon after the restart, Chelsea chances continued with saves keeping out Hall and Mudryk but what had been an open and action-packed game was effectively put to bed by a Bruno Fernandes penalty as time began to run out.
A Wesley Fofana mistake led to Marcus Rashford adding a fourth goal but substitute Joao Felix scored the goal our overall attacking play had deserved – a lovely run from the halfway line and sweet strike into the bottom corner.
Three of the younger players, Carney Chukwuemeka in midfield and Noni Madueke and Mykhailo Mudryk in the front line, were handed starts in three changes made by Frank Lampard. Raheem Sterling, one of those replaced, was missing due to a minor hamstring issue.
Alfie Gilchrist, a 19-year-old central defender who has been captain of the Chelsea Under-23 side in the second half of the season, was named among the substitutes.
The penultimate match of the campaign was upon us, with the Blues taking on a side starting the day in fourth position in the Premier League table, and needing a point to confirm their Champions League qualification.
It was Man United who made the brisker start, but it was Chelsea with the first shot in anger – Chukwuemeka clearing the bar.
Then inside four minutes, Gallagher released Hall in acres of space and the left-back picked out Mudryk in the middle, but the Ukrainian could not adjust his feet and sent his shot well wide.
The Red Devils responded by taking the lead when a Chelsea problem this season, defending set-pieces, resurfaced. This time it was a free-kick from Christian Eriksen wide on the left that sent the ball into the danger zone. Casemiro was in between Fofana and Havertz when he met it to head home.
Captain comes to the rescue
The Blues were thankful for a superb sliding challenge from Cesar Azpilicueta that kept the deficit down to a single goal. That was on Martial just as he was pulling the trigger in the 19th minute. The ball had been given away in midfield following what had been a steadying spell for the visitors from London.
Azpi did need some treatment after his impressive intervention but thankfully the skipper was okay to continue on, unlike Man United’s Anthony who was later carried off with under a third of the game played, replaced by fit-again Rashford.
For the second time in the game Hall created a Chelsea chance after advancing, but this time Havertz headed wide.
The Red Devils continued to threaten when they came forward. Fofana made an important block but Hall had a shot of his own blocked as Chelsea enjoyed a strong end to the first half, with Madueke and Chukwuemeka growing more and more into the game.
Having just fired wide from outside the box, Gallagher was threaded through by an Enzo pass but shot beyond the far post from the best Chelsea opening since the early Mudryk miss.
That was made all the more galling when on the stroke of half-time, United beat the Chelsea offside trap for Jadon Sancho to set up Martial for a tap-in and a 2-0 lead at the interval.
Joao Felix’s late flourish
In a lively start to the second period, there was an escape for Chelsea right at the beginning when Bruno Fernandes rattled Kepa’s crossbar. A deflected Mudryk shot then forced David De Gea into a sprawling save before Kepa somehow clawed the ball off his goal-line following a scramble and an Eriksen prod.
In the 59th minute, after a move following a corner he had taken, Hall properly tested De Gea with a thunderous shot. A follow-up Mudryk effort, again deflected, also required a save.
Man United’s third goal came with just under 20 minutes left to play when Fernandes wrong-footed Kepa from the spot. Fofana had clipped the goalscorer to concede the penalty.
Five minutes later, it was Chelsea who were the architects of the fourth goal conceded when Fofana misplaced the ball across our penalty area to Fernandes, who passed to Rashford for a bundled finish through Kepa.
Man U sub Alejandro Garnacho then hit the bar but there was still time for Joao Felix’s lovely strike on 89 minutes, giving the noisy away support something to really cheer.
One to go, on Sunday at Stamford Bridge where we will take on Champions League-qualified Newcastle United. That fixture, like all the Round 38 Premier League games, will kick off at 4.30pm.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), W.Fofana, Chalobah, Hall; Chukwuemeka (Loftus-Cheek 82), Enzo, Gallagher (D.Fofana 82); Madueke (Ziyech 82), Havertz (Joao Felix 64), Mudryk (Pulisic 64).
Unused subs Mendy, Gilchrist, Koulibaly, Thiago Silva.
Scorer Joao Felix 89
Booked Enzo 75
Man United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Lindelof, Shaw (Malacia h-t); Casemiro, Eriksen (Fred 70); Antony (Rashford 29), Fernandes (c) (McTominay 86), Sancho; Martial (Garnacho 70).
Unused subs Butland, Dalot, Maguire, Weghorst.
Scorers Casemiro 6, Martial 45+5, Fernandes 73 pen, Rashford 78
Booked Malacia 75
Referee Stuart Attwell