16 Conclusions on Chelsea 1-1 Man United: late drama and momentary sparks can’t mask both sides’ attacking flaws

Neither Chelsea nor Manchester United have been entirely convincing in front of goal this season – both sides are being outscored by Erling Haaland currently – and this is the most drawn fixture in Premier League history. We’re just surprised and, if only for purely practical eking-this-out-to-16 reasons, grateful it wasn’t 0-0…


1. For 84 minutes, this looked like being one of those Big Six games. All tactical and cancel-each-other-outty and, really, if we’re honest, a bit dull. It was all set to be described by everyone as an absorbing chess match because nobody wants to look like they just didn’t understand it and that’s why they thought it was boring. Then, luckily for absolutely everyone, it went all mental. Barclays is inevitable.


2. With an eye on the bigger picture it is a point that is, quite obviously, a better result for Manchester United than Chelsea in what looks like being a cat’s-arse-tight scrap for the bottom half of the top four. For one thing, it makes it four points from two games against Spurs and Chelsea this week and that is a very acceptable outcome for Erik Ten Hag and the gang. For Chelsea, it’s two points from games at Brentford and United at home. That is… less acceptable.


3. And that’s before we even get to the nature of the equaliser, glorious header that it was from an absolutely wildly excited Casemiro. The defending was inadequate from a team that should have been able to make a better fist of seeing out those closing minutes against a United side that had already withdrawn most of its major attacking weapons when apparently accepting a point at a time the game was goalless and apparently firmly in deadlock. More annoyingly, that’s now twice this season Chelsea have dropped careless points at home to a direct rival. They hadn’t controlled this game quite so thoroughly as they did against Spurs back in August, but the (literal) point remains the same. It already seems pretty reasonable to assume there’s not going to be much between at least four teams scrapping for the last two apparently available top-four spots this season, and pissing away four points while charitably donating a point each to two of those other teams is not the one.


4. So in summary, then, very annoying for Chelsea but a decent point for United. And yet there’s one obvious reason for concern in both camps after that. For those first 83 avowedly goalless and largely chanceless minutes, the defending was admirably solid but the lack of attacking threat looks like being the biggest barrier to success for both these sides. After this game they both find themselves among the lengthy list of teams being outscored by Erling Haaland. That’s fair enough because he’s a great big Norwegian daftness, but they’re also being outscored by table propper-uppers Leicester and the entire rest of the top half bar Brighton. It might not seem it on a day when Liverpool have shat the bad at Nottingham Forest, but both Chelsea and United still look to have fewer easy ways out of awkward games than both Liverpool and Spurs. And frankly, a Jorginho penalty and Casemiro header doesn’t really do anything to change that assessment.


5. What a header, though. And what a significant one it could really prove to be. He had absolutely no right to get anything much on a ball that appeared to be heading Scott McTominay’s way for an unlikely shot at post-penalty (more on that later) redemption. To arc it back where it came from and with enough oomph to overpower Kepa Arrizabalaga’s admittedly limp attempt to keep it out was a feat of strength and contortion that few could manage at any point, never mind the 94th minute of a Big Six clash in Our League. Casemiro has had an awkward start to life at United but he’s been a huge part of their best week of the Premier League season. Very good against Spurs, excellent here.

Casemiro celebrates scoring a late equaliser for Man Utd against Chelsea.

6. For all that VAR is the devil, we should all still be grateful for the existence of goalline technology because that goal would have been outrageously difficult for the officials to give in real time. The ball was never fully over the line while it was on the ground, where things are significantly easier to judge, only making its way into the goal by the barest of margins between bouncing and being futilely dragged back by Kepa.


7. And this sort of thing (annoying late points dropped, not goals that go in by the width of a gnat’s hair) is going to keep happening to Chelsea if they can’t find a reliable and consistent route to goal. Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling and an off-the-pace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang managed one off-target shot between them for all Chelsea managed to gradually assume some form of control of the contest until the dramatic late scenes. Graham Potter in charge of a team that does a lot of really very good things but looks a bit toothless in front of goal, is it?


8. So then to what had looked set to be Chelsea’s matchwinner and the way it came from what always looked their likeliest route to success. It was a soft penalty, but it was also very definitely a penalty. McTominay was played like a fiddle by Armando Broja, who initiated the contact from a corner and then quite rightly took the direct route to ground as soon as McTominay was foolish enough to wrap his arms around him. Hook, line and sinker. A daft bit of play that carried minimal reward for maximum risk and even if he did have the flimsiest of cases for a foul against him in the first place the same risk-reward assessment still applies. Get handsy in the penalty area as a defender and you’re always taking a huge risk. He and United could have no complaints.


9. It’s not really a criticism but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a keeper look less likely to save a penalty than David De Gea, who spent a good 20 seconds looking like the victim in that mansplaining meme as Bruno Fernandes issued a whole batch of instructions on how best to deal with Jorginho’s penalty. None of them helped.


10. One modern trend we’re enjoying with penalties is the way each team has a designated spot-protector and heat-taker whose only job at the award of a penalty is to go and stand by the penalty spot and get shouted at by opponents, shout back, make sure no scuffing up can take place and generally just allow the poor sod who will eventually take the penalty a few moments of calm to ready themselves in peace. Wily old pro Cesar Azpilicueta is, of course, a perfect person to fulfil this role; strong enough to stand his ground, composed enough not to lose his mind and exacerbate the situation. He played the part to perfection here.


11. Way back in the far-off distant times of the first half, United were actually enjoying the bulk of the play. They weren’t exactly carrying on where they left off against Spurs, but were having much the better of the first half. Marcus Rashford was finding holes between the occasionally disparate elements of Chelsea’s back three while Christian Eriksen and Casemiro, often ably assisted by Bruno Fernandes were overpowering Jorginho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the middle of the park.

This was shown most clearly when all three harried Chelsea high up the pitch to create a chance that Rashford narrowly failed to lift over the advancing Kepa, whose save redeemed his own error from moments earlier when he decided to try and catch an overhit Antony pass that was sailing harmlessly out of play and managed only in dropping it behind his own goal for a corner.


12. Graham Potter is not daft, though, and saw that something needed to be done. Marc Cucurella was withdrawn, Chelsea reverted to a back four, and Mateo Kovacic was deployed to bolster the midfield. It was harsh on Cucurella, who had done little particularly wrong other than find himself the odd man out in a system that wasn’t quite working, and Chelsea improved markedly for the change, ending the first half the stronger and being marginally the better side in a tight second half. Blameless as Cucurella was, you still don’t really want to be the subject of a tactical substitution barely half-an-hour into the biggest league game you’ve played in your first couple of months at a new club.


13. Funnily enough, though, United’s clearest chance of the night came late in that first half after Chelsea’s tactical switch via a run from Antony down the sort of inside-right channel Cucurella might well have covered off. But his shot with his right foot lacked conviction and was always slicing wide. He’s an intriguing and sometimes intoxicating player is Antony, but to reiterate a point we made after the Tottenham game, he really is quite ludicrously one-footed for a player carrying his price tag and obvious monumental talent.


14. We have a growing suspicion that Lisandro Martinez is going to become one of our absolute favourites. We’ve been on his side ever since everyone just decided he was no good because he wasn’t six-foot four, and with each passing game we grow ever fonder. He is a wonderfully Argentinian defender, a heady combination of acute football intelligence, legitimate technical skills and a seemingly untameable propensity for wild yet (mainly) effective aggression. We’ve already put our name down to cover all Argentina games at the World Cup in the hope of seeing him alongside the similarly magnificently robust Cristian Romero at any stage.

Today, Martinez was the best defender on show in a game between two teams who do and did defend well for almost the entire game. His stats reflect everything about him. Five tackles, an interception, a blocked shot, seven clearances and a yellow card. And then throwing himself deliriously into the travelling fans after Casemiro’s equaliser. Yes please.


15. And so it’s another draw in the most drawn fixture in Premier League history. That’s seven of the last 10 between these two that have ended all square, with the other three all going the way of United. Ten games is a long old run for one Big Sixer to have against another without victory, especially as United have been non-vintage for those five years. And this is a draw that just feels like both sides slightly letting Liverpool off the hook for their slip earlier in the day. A draw tomorrow between Tottenham and Newcastle – and let’s be honest, that’s an entirely likely result – and everyone will have got away with everything.


16. Partly because we can’t think of anything else but mainly because it can’t go unremarked upon the final word is on the absent Cristiano Ronaldo, in accordance with the prophecy. More specifically, Roy Keane’s absolutely mad defence of Cristiano Ronaldo on Sky Sports. Just utter disingenuous absurdity. Not least because Keane as a pundit is so fond of dismissing any and all praise for players with a dismissive “That’s their job” and now finds himself in the position of taking the side of the one and only player quite literally not doing his job.

We also enjoyed his total refusal to give any credit to United for that win over Spurs because “Spurs were terrible” without ever considering or conceiving of the possibility that at least a tiny part of why Spurs were so terrible was that United’s excellence made a team that had won seven of its 10 Premier League games look that way.

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