Two teams turned up and it rained a lot. The spoils were shared on a pouring Saturday evening as Chelsea held Manchester United to a goalless draw with both sides putting on a pedestrian display.
Both Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer raised a few eyebrows with their team selection as Chelsea changed their shape yet again; playing in a 3-4-3 conservative system for the first time this season while United left the likes of Paul Pogba, Donny van de Beek and Edinson Cavani on the bench. It appeared as if both managers were adamant on avoiding defeat more than they wanted the three points. Lampard’s approach can be justified considering the fact that Chelsea were thrashed 4-0 in this fixture last season, but it was strange for them to play a low block against a United side who have now failed to win at Old Trafford in their last five attempts, a club record.
The first half saw Chelsea and United dominate spells of possession, with both teams playing risk-free, ‘careful’ football and keeping their ammunition in the bag. With the astonishing score lines witnessed in the Premier League so far this season and the richness of attacking talent that both teams possess, this fixture should’ve guaranteed a goal-fest. But that wasn’t to be as Chelsea played merely on the counter using the pace of Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner, the latter barely having a sniff at goal the entire game. United, on the other hand, were trying to get Bruno Fernandes on the ball to release it to the likes of Marcus Rashford and Dan James.
It said everything that United’s best opportunity of the opening half hour came from the boot of Edouard Mendy, who passed the ball across his own goal and almost over the goal-line. Mercifully, it trickled away for a corner. Mendy did considerably better a few minutes later when saving one-on-one a fierce strike outside the box from Rashford, who had exploited Jorginho and Thiago Silva’s poor positioning to streak in behind Chelsea’s defence.
That was the one moment of incision. Chelsea’s best chance of breaking the deadlock was a penalty shout against Harry Maguire, who manhandled and apparently choked Cesar Azpilicueta, like a prime Triple H, in a set-piece situation in the box. Azpilicueta fell to ground but referee Martin Atkinson saw nothing wrong and Stuart Attwell, the VAR official, did not feel it was worthy of a closer look. Attwell did take a considered review of a Silva clip on Rashford inside the penalty area shortly after, though decided against awarding a penalty. VAR keeps making the headlines, albeit for the wrong reasons.
Just after Rashford missed his one-on-one, television cameras caught Solskjaer, a formidable finisher in his prime, turning to new signing Edinson Cavani and explaining how he wants his strikers to move and exploit space. It was no surprise, then, when Cavani was introduced for his United debut shortly before the hour mark that the Uruguayan had obviously been listening to his new manager. Cavani almost made an immediate impact, meeting a low Bruno Fernandes cross at the near post and flicking into the side netting.
Kai Havertz operated wide on the right flank for large parts of the game and couldn’t really influence the game. While Jorginho justified his manager’s faith in a him with an assured display, N’Golo Kante was sloppy in possession on one occasion too many. Ben Chilwell continues to impress as he played his wing-back role to perfection; he was getting forward and put on a solid defensive show.
However, by the final whistle, the only players to emerge with much credit were Mendy and Silva, who recovered well after their early missteps. Chelsea’s new No 1 was particularly impressive when called into action at the start of stoppage time, turning Rashford’s goal-bound strike from the edge of the area around his post. Both the attempt and the save were rare moments of quality in a sea of mediocrity and came far too late.
It wasn’t necessarily an unnerving performance from either side, but it was most definitely not one for the neutrals to enjoy. Lampard will have been delighted with the clean sheet and Edouard Mendy, who has already won over Chelsea fans with his solidarity in goal, something Chelsea have been deprived of for a while now. After an inspiring mid-week win over Paris Saint-Germain, United didn’t really create much and with Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek still not making the starting lineup, Ole has some thinking to do about his strongest XI.
The result leaves Chelsea in sixth place for now, while Manchester United sit languishing in 15th place. Chelsea visit Burnley next weekend while United host Arsenal as both teams look to get some consistency in performances and results.