Casemiro snatches deserved draw against Chelsea

In a fascinating tie which saw both managers adapt their style in-game, Chelsea and Manchester United settled for a point each. United arrived at Stamford Bridge knowing they hadn’t lost against their opponents in nine league meeting. The last Chelsea manager to beat them was Antonio Conte, whose Spurs side were well-beaten by United in midweek. That was nearly five years ago in November 2017.

New Blues manager Graham Potter had been getting Chelsea firing again, and hadn’t lost in his first seven games. Erik Ten Hag had been to Stamford Bridge once before – a scintillating 4-4 draw with previous club Ajax. Not many were expecting a similar scoreline, with history suggesting a low-scoring draw was a likely outcome. The previous four league meetings between the sides had finished 0-0, 0-0, 1-1 and 1-1.

Erik Ten Hag’s side sat 5th in the table, one point behind Chelsea, before kick-off. (Photo by Teamtalk)

A wasteful first-half for United – Chelsea fortunate

Ten Hag’s men looked buoyed by their thrashing of Spurs three days prior and started with a similar intensity. United were creating overloads in the midfield that Chelsea couldn’t handle. Full-backs Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot would often drift inside and provide United with an extra man in the centre of the park. Chelsea, who had started the game with a 2-man midfield of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jorginho, were on the ropes.

Right-back Dalot (#20) stands in the centre circle when United have the ball, a trend in the first half. (images from Sky Sports)

None of this clever work resulted in the decisive breakthrough for United. A squandered chance from Rashford on the 27th minute meant United’s dominance was not rewarded.

Graham Potter and his coaching staff were quick to spot the midfield issue early and, after half an hour, pulled wide-centre-back Marc Cucurella out of the game in favour of midfielder Mateo Kovacic. This decision showed the English manager’s tactical adeptness, and proved effective in the game. United’s space in midfield was drastically reduced and Chelsea began to gain momentum.

United’s early-game dominance was over, and the game now had a much more even flow to it. Chelsea’s Aubameyang spurned a glorious chance in the 43rd minute following an excellent spell of sustained pressure. This was followed by a clever breakaway from Antony followed by a shot that sailed just wide of Kepa’s goal.

Aubameyang and Antony both missed good chances to put their team ahead before half-time. (photo by Sporting News)

A breathless start to the second-half

The second-half began as the first finished, with ferocious play from both sides. Sancho’s wastefulness cost him – his manager swapped him out for Fred after just seven second-half minutes. Sancho had just squandered a give-and-go with overlapping full-back Luke Shaw who was visibly frustrated with his colleague.

Fred gave United a man advantage in midfield, but forced Eriksen into a number-10 role, which he infamously found fruitless in United’s 4-0 defeat to Brentford in August.

Varane strode off the pitch in tears after jarring his knee in a tackle. (Photo by

Colossal centre-back Rafael Varane suffered what looked like a serious knee injury before the hour-mark. He was notably distressed when leaving the pitch. A long-term injury to Varane would mean Varane would miss France’s world cup campaign this Winter.

Late flurry of drama for Chelsea and United!

Entering the final phase of the game at 0-0, parallels had begun to form. Both sides hit the first man with a corner; both were awarded contentious decisions for and against them and both teams played the game out as though they could have done without the game. With United finding some serious form (just one defeat and five wins in seven matches) and Chelsea enjoying life under their new boss, the nervy game came at an inconvenient for all involved.

Crucially, neither team wanted to lose.

Scott McTominay’s introduction proved pivotal. At the 86-minute mark, The Scotland international brought down youngster Armando Broja in a scuffle for space during a Chelsea corner. Both had been on the pitch less than ten minutes. The resulting penalty was calmly and unsurprisingly put away by Jorginho. Stamford Bridge had seemingly seen a winner.

United’s resoluteness was put to the test. They didn’t deserve to lose this game, but football can be cruel.

A quick breakaway for a desperate United side saw Luke Shaw find some space for a cross. A peach of a ball to the back post found the enormous leap of Casemiro who headed the ball back across the goalkeeper. Kepa got a decent glove to palm in onto the post, but the ball bobbled and bounced over the line by mere millimetres. The away end erupted and referee Stuart Attwell blew his whistle and pointed to the centre circle. United had grabbed a late, late equaliser which broke Chelsea hearts.

Casemiro sparked pandemonium in the reduced United away end in the 94th-minute (Photo by MEN)

The big picture

United remain unbeaten since the Manchester Derby, a spell of eight games. Up next for The Red Devils is a Europa League tie vs. Sheriff at Old Trafford on Thursday night. It’s a must-win if United are to avoid a round-of-32 play-off in February. They still have to go San Sebastian and win to secure this in the final group game in November.

Before the World Cup, United have winnable ties against West Ham, Aston Villa and Fulham, as well as a home tie in the league cup vs. Villa. Three league wins would take United to 29 points after 14 games – last season United had 21 points at that stage. These three league games may well determine what Erik Ten Hag’s ambitions are going forward beyond the World Cup.

Author: Sam Talbot

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